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CHRONIC PAIN ISSUES

The burden of chronic pain in the U.S. is growing. Issues related to effective treatment of this pain, opioid use and misuse and emerging treatment methods are all areas of growing concern.

SUPPORT COMMON SENSE ACTION FOR CHRONIC PAIN

Chronic pain is a serious concern in the United States.  Because the mechanisms of pain are so poorly understood, it costs the U.S. health care system upwards of $630 billion. Chronic pain also causes major losses in economic productivity for the country as individuals hurt too much to work. These effects are difficult, if not impossible, to estimate.[1]

 

Simultaneously, the opioid epidemic has become a major concern for American leadership for obvious reasons. In 2017 alone, the number of deaths involving prescription and illegal opioids was 6 times higher than in 1999; and an average of 130 Americans die every day from opioid abuse.[2]  Naturally, given such staggering numbers, the response to the epidemic has been drastic... sometimes, involving immediate ending of opioid use altogether.

While this might sound like a good thing, there have been negative effects. Some chronic pain patients have been harmed by this severe response to the crisis. In fact, forced tapering of opioid management by physicians who have not been properly trained in tapering best-practices may have led to a crisis in its own right. Chronic pain patients are at an increased risk of suicide, depression and mental health issues.[3]  While there are many reasons for this to be true, but we can not ignore the strict crackdown resulting from the opioid epidemic as a contributing factor to this growing problem.

Interestingly, this psychological effect on patients is starting to be recognized by a growing group of Americans: 21% of U.S. adults believe the stigma around opioid usage is making it difficult to address the opioid epidemic in the first place. [4] 

HOW TO PROTECT PATIENTS AND STILL FIGHT THE OPIOID CRISIS:

The most effective way to address this problem is for Congress to support legislation that would:

  • Fund more general pain research through the NIH, CDC, and other research bodies. This will: 

    • Help us better understand how pain works

    • Understand which patients should and should not receive opioid treatments

    • Find real alternatives to opioids for patients living with chronic pain

  • Educate more clinicians about the most evidence-based best-practices on opioid tapering (e.g. - long periods of tapering as opposed to quick switching from opioids to other medications, etc.)

  • Support programs that reduce the burden of suicide and depression in patients living with chronic pain

1. Darnell BD. To treat pain, study people in all their complexity. Nature 2018 May;557(7703):7.

2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

3. Hassett AL, Aquino JK, Ilgen MA. The Risk of Suicide Mortality in Chronic Pain Patients. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2018;18:436.

4. A Research!America survey of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in January 2018.