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Pain, Public Health, Stanford News

A call to fight chronic-pain epidemic

A call to fight chronic-pain epidemic

During my years working as a health writer, I’ve interviewed a wide variety of frustrated – and often depressed – chronic pain sufferers who, after years of searching, were at a complete loss as to where to find help. The causes of the pain were many and varied – from ongoing back problems to autoimmune disorders to accident injuries – but the frustrations were similar.

You could see the pain etched into these patients’ faces, reflected in their movements. Often, they felt misunderstood or not believed or condemned for not “sucking it up” and complaining too much. Living with ongoing pain had become a way of life.

The number of these pain sufferers, who often go ontreated and suffer needlessly, has reached epidemic proportions in the the United States, and now the dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine is calling for a public health campaign to fight the problem. In a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece published today, Philip Pizzo, MD, and co-author Noreen Clark, PhD, write:

We recommend expanding and redesigning education programs to transform the understanding of pain, improving education for clinicians, and increasing the number of health professionals with advanced expertise in pain care.

The co-authors describe both the “astounding” magnitude of pain – up to 116 million Americans suffer – and the need to better educate health care practitioners and the public as a whole about the problem:

Sadly, many physicians are viewed as poor listeners by people living with chronic pain. Some physicians over-prescribe medications including opioids, while others refuse to prescribe them at all for fear of violating local or state regulations… Often, an initially supportive community becomes intolerant or inattentive as the pain persists, which leads many people with chronic pain to give up, resulting in depression.

Last June, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that the effective treatment of pain demands a cultural transformation on the part of patients, physicians and researchers; Pizzo chaired the committee that issued that report.

Previously: No pain, no gain. Not!, Relieving Pain in America: A new report from the Institute of Medicine, Elliot Krane discusses the mystery of chronic pain, Researching ways to “heal the hurt”, Stanford’s Sean Mackey discusses recent advances in pain research and treatment and Oh what a pain
Photo by SashaW

4 Responses to “ A call to fight chronic-pain epidemic ”

  1. Wayney Says:

    “We recommend expanding and redesigning education programs to transform the understanding of pain, improving education for clinicians, and increasing the number of health professionals with advanced expertise in pain care.”

    I think this will help a great deal. Being educated about the pain that chronic pain patients deal with should help lead to better treatment and less stigma.

    I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful pain doctor since 2006 and then doctors who didn’t want to change what the pain doctor had me on while I was in the nursing home learning to walk again. Prior to meeting my pain doctor, my pain was inadequately treated. Just having a doctor who believed me and cared enough to treat my pain adequately was a huge relief.

  2. Radene Marie Cook Says:

    As an intractable pain patient myself and (because I have appropriate pain treatment)an avid pain care advocate, I thank you very much for this article. “A call to fight the EPIDEMIC of chronic pain” is a brave and desperately needed one. My husband and I volunteer for many advocacy groups that all have a web presence of some sort. I would encourage anyone who reads this article and agrees with it’s call should look up an advocacy organization and GET INVOLVED TODAY. Because if not you, who? If not now, when? Thank you editors for posting this article.

  3. Tina D. Says:

    I was being treated pretty well for pain in the state of Maryland, in Baltimore county. Then I moved to Northern Alabama, and it is taking months to get in to see a pain management doctor. I have been here since February 3, 2012, and I cannot get into see a pain doctor until October 9, 2012. I had to withdrawal from the pain medication I was given in Maryland, and no primary care doctor in my area will even think about prescribing me the pain medication I desperately need. I have become majorly depressed and in addition to the depression, I cannot get into see a mental health care worker. In Fort Payne, AL, there is a major lack of health care. Not only for chronic pain, but in every aspect. There are no pain doctors in the area that will prescribe pain medication. The one doctor here will only do steroid injections, which can make your bones and your immune system weak. I wish I had never moved here and I wish there was away financially for me to move back to Maryland, but I do not have that option, and therefore, I will have to suffer in severe, daily pain. It is unfair and creul. It is the DEA and the medical board of these states that cause the fear in these doctor’s and prevent those with chronic pain to suffer. To me, they are the devil himself.

    Thank you for posting about this problem and I am glad that anyone with power would be involved in fighting this battle, because the patient has no voice, no one cares what they have to say and it appears not many people care that they have to suffer. It is no different than terrorist torture.

  4. C.M.Phillips Says:

    It is now January 2014. The IOM report initially came out in 2011 and there is still mass suffering do to undertreatment or a lack there of.

    The debate still continues as to whether pain patients deserve to be treated with opioids for their severe chronic pain.

    Organizations like PROP only fuel the fires of ignorance, stigma and hysteria about the “prescription painkiller epidemic” that should be treated as a completely separate situation than treatment for legitimate pain patients.

    Over 100 million chronic pain patients continue to suffer, many left untreated. More regulations and barriers to opioid therapy for chronic pain patients continue to impede on their needs in the name of preventing abuse and addiction? Yet addiction and overdose rates have skyrocketed!!

    Addicts can get these pills easily on the street but legitimate pain patients can’t get them from their physicians. What is going on here??


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