With Over 100 Million Sufferers, Making Pain Relief A National Priority

“This report is huge for all the patients who suffer in severe, chronic pain and aren’t taken seriously; for the doctors who don’t learn nearly enough about the basic biology of pain in medical school, particularly the ways in which acute pain turns into chronic pain; for the researchers who are trying to develop new, non-opioid drugs to combat chronic pain; and for insurers and policy makers who often still don’t grasp that chronic pain is a disease, not just a symptom of something else, and that patients need the whole works – better drugs, more empathic doctors, better insurance coverage and, most important, the knowledge that when they say they are in pain, they should be believed.”

That’s the word today from Judy Foreman, nationally syndicated health columnist and long a widely respected Boston Globe reporter. Judy is on the pain beat these days. She’s author of the upcoming book “A Nation in Pain – Healing Our Biggest Health Problem,” and she’s in Washington, D.C. today for the release of a major Institute of Medicine report on pain.

Here’s the Institute of Medicine’s official description of its new plan, titled “Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research.”

Chronic pain affects an estimated 116 million American adults—more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Pain also costs the nation up to $635 billion each year in medical treatment and lost productivity. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enlist the IOM in examining pain as a public health problem.

In this report, the IOM offers a blueprint for action in transforming prevention, care, education, and research, with the goal of providing relief for people with pain in America. To reach the vast multitude of people with various types of pain, the nation must adopt a population-level prevention and management strategy. The IOM recommends that HHS develop a comprehensive plan with specific goals, actions, and timeframes. Better data are needed to help shape efforts, especially on the groups of people currently underdiagnosed and undertreated, and the IOM encourages federal and state agencies and private organizations to accelerate the collection of data on pain incidence, prevalence, and treatments. Because pain varies from patient to patient, healthcare providers should increasingly aim at tailoring pain care to each person’s experience, and self-management of pain should be promoted. In addition, because there are major gaps in knowledge about pain across health care and society alike, the IOM recommends that federal agencies and other stakeholders redesign education programs to bridge these gaps. Pain is a major driver for visits to physicians, a major reason for taking medications, a major cause of disability, and a key factor in quality of life and productivity. Given the burden of pain in human lives, dollars, and social consequences, relieving pain should be a national priority.

We wrote earlier this month here about an exhibit that makes chronic pain visible, and the relatively new organization that sponsors it, the US Pain Foundation. Its founder, Paul Gileno, says that in Massachusetts, the group is working with others to push for prescription savings cards that could lower the price of medications for people in pain. In Connecticut, he said, the foundation helped get a “fail first” law changed to help people in pain get the right drugs for them more quickly. It’s pushing for a similar change in Massachusetts.

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