As Pain Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s fair to say that the chronic pain community is aware—understanding that the U.S. health care system is not living up to promises that patients feel should be kept.
We know the statistics:
- Chronic pain — low back pain, headaches, arthritis, neuropathy and many other forms of it — costs American society $635 billion annually.
- At least 50 million people—some say double that—suffer from chronic pain.
- The many varieties of chronic pain make up the most common and disabling health problem in the world.
But as our readers know too well, most of the attention paid to the chronic pain community has not been aimed at patients at all. Rather, it has been a government emphasis on the “opioid issue”. The result has been a notable reduction in opioid prescribing (but not in addiction). Chronic pain patients who use opioids responsibly have become collateral damage in the last several years—seeing their medications reduced or outright denied.
Many have been abandoned—some have killed themselves.
Many pain leaders have been arguing that the government’s approach to the “opioid issue” has been wronghead.
“We lack the data to say we are reducing opioids the right way — safely and effectively, wrote Beth Darnall Ph.D. of Stanford. “Existing policies fail to recognize the needs of the individual.”
A very promising and comprehensive plan to change how chronic pain is treated was released earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services. The report provides advice and recommendations for the development of best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication.
The implementation of the report has been stalled, in part because Dr. Vanila Singh, the Chairperson of the Pain Management Inter-Agency Task Force has left the HHS and it’s unclear who the “in-agency” advocate (if any) will be.
The Washington Post ran a story last weekend promoting the idea of new discoveries that could transform the treatment of long-term pain, allowing doctors, psychologists, physical therapists and others to intervene before pain becomes chronic, or provide alternatives to drugs when it does.
The importance of medical innovation to treat pain was also captured in this column by Nancy Budny for the National Pain Report on Sunday.
But for pain patients who are suffering today, the idea of more innovation is important, but they have a much more urgent concern.
They can’t wait. They need help now.
The U.S. Pain Foundation just concluded a month-long observance they entitled #LetsTalkAboutPain
It was a success.
But the talking about and the advocacy and the delivery of better treatment of chronic pain doesn’t end when October starts.
Millions of people demand it.