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New Federal Report Shows Problems In How We Treat Chronic Pain

The way we are treating chronic pain in the United States is not ideal according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In September 2014, the NIH held a workshop to review the way chronic pain is treated. The panel consisted of seven experts and more than 20 speakers. The NIH reviewed relevant research on how America should be treating pain. These findings were published on Monday in the “Annals of Internal Medicine.” The writings detailed a lack of research into better treatment methods and poor preparedness among physicians. “The prevalence of chronic pain and the increasing use of opioids have created a ‘silent epidemic’ of distress, disability, and danger to a large percentage of Americans,” the reports author wrote. “The overriding question is: Are we, as a nation, approaching management of chronic pain in the best possible manner that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes harm?”

The answer is an overwhelming no, the report reveals. The number of opioid prescriptions for pain has gone from 76 million in 1991 to 219 million in 2011, and according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the latest figures show around 17,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2011. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of hospitalizations for opioid addiction increased four-fold. As with growing numbers of prescription painkiller users, the number of heroin users has skyrocketed as well. Mostly due to heroin's cheaper price and it's availability on the street.

The NIH says that based on their findings, healthcare professionals in the United States are not managing pain correctly and sometimes hold stigmas against their own patients seeking pain relief. “[Providers] are sometimes quick to label patients as ‘drug-seeking’ or as ‘addicts’ who overestimate their pain,” the authors write. “Some physicians ‘fire’ patients for increasing their dose or for merely voicing concerns about their pain management.”

Before prescribing opioids, other treatments like physical therapy and complementary medicine should be considered. There is a lack of data that favors long-term use of opioids and the dangers associated with the medications may outweigh their benefit.

When a distinguished group like the NIH puts together information like this, it should not be overlooked. Our nation is on a downward spiral with substance abuse and addiction. The federal government has cut funding to the National Institute of Drug Abuse and there are planned cuts to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for addiction treatment. When the nation has had over 175,000 deaths in the past 15 years, much more money and research needs to be given to this epidemic. It is quickly killing Americans and is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Many state governments are doing what they can to help their citizens but it is up to the federal government to take this seriously and make a change.

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