Patient Advocate Tells US Senate Committee “Pain Conversation is Long Overdue”

Cindy Steinberg put a human face on the chronic pain issue for U.S. Senators Tuesday in a meeting of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions.

Steinberg, the only patient to testify, described her own two-decade battle with chronic pain as “being a prisoner in your own body and being tortured.”

Steinberg, who is the national director of policy and advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation pointed that the opioid crisis has “underscored our failure to provide adequate, safe, accessible treatment options for pain relief.”

She also said that “we can and must restore balance to opioid prescribing,” while emphasizing that chronic pain and opioid use disorder are distinct and separate diseases. Many patients use opioids legitimately and safely.

The financial and societal burden of chronic pain is enormous: it costs the United States an estimated $635 billion annually in terms of lost productivity and health care costs. It is the leading cause of long-term disability.

“Steinberg directly challenged the lack of resident expertise on pain management at CDC, suggesting that Congress direct the much better equipped NIH to rewrite the guidelines based on recommendations of the HHS Task Force. This is a recommendation I support,” Richard “Red” Lawhern, Director of Research for the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain wrote.

He added the hearings today were “marginally positive for people in pain”.

Committee Chair Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the “massive effort in reducing the supply of opioids has had the unintended consequence of hurting people who need them.”

Ranking Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington said that opioids have been overprescribed and it’s critical that they are marketed, prescribed and used responsibly.

Steinberg stressed that a multimodal, multidisciplinary approach to treatment—that includes both pharmacological and nonpharmacological options—is essential to effective, long- term pain relief. Inadequate insurance coverage, high out-of-pocket costs, and limited availability are significant barriers to effective care.

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