Federal Advisory Panel Says Pain Should Be Classified As A National Public Health Crisis

Federal Advisory Panel Says Pain Should Be Classified As A National Public Health Crisis

Are you suffering from chronic pain and aren’t satisfied with your treatment? Are you taking prescription opioids and still not getting the relief you crave? Have you tried other types of treatment and yet you’re still suffering? Are you confused by all the different things you read or hear about treating chronic pain? Even worse, are you becoming dependent on the drugs? Well guess what, you’re not alone. You’re one of millions of Americans just trying to get by in spite of chronic, unrelenting pain. Try as you might, there doesn’t seem to be any easy answer. And in the meantime, you’re at risk of drug dependence and even overdose. Robert Kerns, PhD, of Yale and the Connecticut VA, says that pain is a “public health problem – or, as some say, a public health crisis – that is in need of a national strategy to transform the way we think about it.” Kerns chaired one of the expert panels that recently created a new National Pain Strategy that promises to bring fundamental changes in the way pain is treated in this country. The evidence from the past 20 or so years proves beyond a doubt that simply throwing more prescription opioids at the problem is just not working. The situation continues to worsen rather than improve. Drug dependence, addiction and death from overdose has never been more prevalent. Yet millions of Americans are still lining up at doctors’ offices with pain that just won’t go away.

Congress calls for new ‘national pain strategy’

So many Americans suffer chronic pain at some time in their lives – and treatment of that pain has historically had such hit-and-miss results – the National Institutes of Health was asked five years ago to come up with a whole new ‘national pain strategy.’ Following a mandate by Congress in the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) contracted with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to make recommendations “to increase the recognition of pain as a significant public health problem in the United States.” The IOM reported back the following year, calling for a “cultural transformation” in pain prevention, care, education, and research. It recommended development of “a comprehensive population health-level strategy” to address the issues of pain and pain treatment. What this suggests is an entirely new and revolutionary approach to pain treatment and management of chronic pain – concepts that would reach all the way down to basic training in medical schools. The IOM’s report was passed on to the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC), which is comprised of representation from the FDA, the NIH, the CDC, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would be tough to come up with a more representative group of interests in pain. And who knew we had an ‘Interagency Pain Committee’ looking out for the interests of Americans in pain? Well, we do, and they have just published their first draft of America’s new National Pain Strategy. It really does impress with the depth and breadth of its many recommendations.

A whole new way of looking at chronic pain

The National Pain Strategy completely redefines not just the way pain is treated in the U.S., but also how pain is perceived by doctors and patients. Even more importantly, it calls for more comprehensive understanding of what pain actually is, in all its physical, mental and even social complexity. “As articulated in the IOM report,” the new Strategy says, “this cultural transformation in our efforts to reduce the burden of pain in the United States will not be achieved without sustained and indeed expanded investment into basic and clinical research studies of the biopsychosocial mechanisms that produce and maintain chronic pain and into the development of safe and effective pain treatments.” Biopsychosocial? The Strategy defines this big word as “a medical problem or intervention that combines biological, psychological, and social elements or aspects.” And it appears all through the report. Chronic pain is more than just “some pain.” When pain becomes chronic, it changes many aspects of life – physically, psychologically and even socially. It affects how we deal with and interact with others, our jobs, our peers, our life.

Prescription drugs don’t get at the whole problem

We can see how pouring endless amounts of prescription narcotics at chronic pain doesn’t get at the whole problem – not by a long shot. When we’re dealing with real chronic pain, we’re dealing with a whole person, not a sore elbow or a broken toe. Smothering a chronic pain patient in a heavy blanket of numbing, addictive and dangerous drugs is as far from a solution as you can get. In fact, it makes the problem even worse. Bottom line, biopsychosocial pain – chronic pain – is serious business. It’s something we need to know a lot more about to understand and properly treat it. The new National Pain Strategy contains over 70 pages of detailed analysis of the whole field of pain and pain treatment, with dozens of those pages devoted to the research required to come up with truly effective, and much safer, approaches to dealing with pain. Here at Novus, we routinely help patients deal with drug and even alcohol problems that have been brought on and made worse by efforts to treat chronic pain. And we experience great success helping our patients get their lives back. Hopefully, the day will come when the National Pain Strategy will have transformed the treatment of pain in America, helping end the prescription drug epidemic. But until then, Novus is here and we are waiting for your call.

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