Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars a year selling pain medications, but when it comes to finding and developing new innovations in pain management, one of the nation’s top pain physicians gives the industry an “F.”
Unlike some other medical specialties, Charles does not think industry is going to drive much needed change.
“The pharmaceutical industry is interested in making money,” he said when asked a question by the National Pain Report at a recent community forum sponsored by KPCC Southern California Public Radio in Pasadena. “Until they have something that makes them money, you won’t see much because innovation is considered risky in the pain world.”
In other specialties, industry and physicians often work together. Take the specialty of ophthalmology for instance.
“The invention of the intraocular lens (IOL) and the thousands of iterations that have followed have come from doctors and companies working together,” said Russ Trenary, a medical device executive who spent most of his career in ophthalmology and now is CEO of an orthodontics device company.
“I can’t imagine where ophthalmology would be without that cooperation,” Trenary says.
But not so in the pain world, and physicians like Dr. Charles aren’t happy about it. He indicated that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other nonprofit groups lack the funding to drive badly needed innovation.
“We have to do better for our people,” he said.
There are over 100 million chronic pain sufferers in the United States and 40 million alone endure migraines, which is Dr. Charles’ specialty.
“It is a huge public problem because of the costs,” said Dr. Charles and he’s not just talking about money.
There are economic costs from lost productivity at work, not only from missing days, but the quality of work performed by pain sufferers. And of course, there are the costs to the health care system.
The American Academy of Pain Medicine estimates that the total incremental cost of health care due to pain reaches an estimated $635 billion in the United States alone.
“And there’s the cost of what is happening to the persons suffering from chronic pain and the social and emotional toll that takes on their family,” he added.
As one patient at the KPCC forum told the audience during a question and answer period, “No one should have to hurt this much”.