I remember visiting my grandmother in the hospital in late 1989. She was in the final stages of pancreatic cancer; her hospitalization was primarily meant to keep her comfortable until her passing. She had a “button” that added morphine into her IV line. Although the machine was programmed to deliver only so much morphine within a certain timeframe, she could push that button whenever she needed pain relief. She never stopped pushing that button.
Over twenty-seven years later, the pain associated with and caused by cancer is still a challenge. In fact, pain seems to accompany many of the diseases we help with at HealthWell and we certainly hear so from our patients. Even in life outside of HealthWell, I hear from friends and family members stricken with chronic pain related to surgery or an injury and their struggles to manage it productively.
Their stories are powerful and many put into words a pain that I cannot fathom trying to cope with day in and day out. From minor headaches and injuries, to the effects of major surgeries and chronic disease, pain is an unfortunate fact of life for millions of Americans. It affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
In a 2011 report, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 100 million adult Americans experience chronic pain every year, costing the nation between $560 billion and $635 billion annually. Much of this pain is preventable or could be better managed, according to the committee that wrote the report, which called on health care providers, insurers and the public to have a greater understanding about pain: Although pain is universal, it is experienced uniquely by each person and care often requires a combination of therapies and coping techniques. It is more than a physical symptom and is not always resolved by curing the underlying condition.
We at the HealthWell Foundation agree with the authors of the IOM report in believing that successful treatment, management and prevention of pain requires an integrated approach that responds to all the factors that influence pain.
We also share the growing concern about the role of opioids in treating pain. In its Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, the CDC notes that opioid pain medication use presents serious risks, including overdose and opioid use disorder. CDC estimate that nearly 2 million Americans age 12 or older either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014.
Over the next couple of months, we will be focusing on the issue of pain management, including traditional pharmaceutical approaches and non-traditional alternative therapies. We’ll be interviewing top researchers in the field as well as leaders of clinical organizations dedicated to helping patients manage pain.
We invite you to check back to learn more about what’s working in the field of pain control and the challenges researchers and clinicians continue to face, especially in light of the growing issue of opioid addiction. You can also sign up to receive email alerts when new interviews are posted. Just enter your email address under the sign-up message to the right.