Educating America about Pain and its Management

Do you suffer from frequent headaches or chronic leg, knee, or back pain? Know someone who does? If so, what do you use to manage the pain? 

Prevalence of Chronic Pain

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine states that 116 million people in America are afflicted with chronic pain. This number is larger than that for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined. It is estimated that it costs the United States approximately 635 billion dollars for treatment and lost productivity. 

Hazards of Strong Pain Relievers

The dilemma that physicians face is that pain can usually (although not always) be ameliorated by prescription opioids (narcotics), which include OxyContin (oxycodone), morphine, and heroin. The downside—or, rather, the danger—is that these pain medications can be addictive and often lead to drug abuse. Unintentional drug overdose, most of which involve pain “killers,” has become the second leading cause of accidental death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Need for Education and Training

Fortunately, there are some interventions that may help with this problem. The state of Washington, for example, is going to require opioid prescribers to use a monitoring program with uniform pain management guidelines. As is turns out, there is very little formal training required in medical schools regarding the prescribing of controlled substances. The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, in fact, estimates that 80-90% of physicians fall into this category (minimal training in this area). Society members believe that physicians and patients alike should be better educated on this critical issue. 

US Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia wants to require physicians to undergo specialized training in pain management in order to be licensed to prescribe these types of drugs. Could his interest stem from the fact that his state is known for a high rate of OxyContin abuse? 

The pain medication crisis is so pervasive, there’s a good chance you’ve had a relative, friend, or at least a friend-of-a-friend who has experienced difficulties of one kind or another with pain management. If a pain-med problem has touched you even more personally, how did you try to deal with it? What strategies were or might be helpful? Have you tried any alternative treatments that helped relieve the pain?

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