A Real Pain in the Economy: IOM States Cost of Chronic Pain is Staggering

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IOM Chronic Pain Study

An Institute of Medicine study out this week estimates that more than 100 million Americans suffer from hard to treat chronic pain. As a medical practice that specializes in hard to treat pain problems, this number is staggering even to us. At least 116 million U.S. adults — or about four in 10 — suffer from chronic pain every year, leading to extra sick days, lost wages and productivity. The IOM Chronic Pain Study also concluded that, “Many health care professionals are not adequately prepared to provide the full range of pain care or to guide patients in self-managing chronic pain…” Citing another recent study, the IOM said only five of 133 U.S. medical schools have required courses on pain and 17 have elective courses. Pain in the lower back is the most commonly reported pain problem in the U.S., followed by knee pain, headaches, and neck pain. Most concerning to us is that knee pain is the second most common cause of pain, yet we know from other studies that the standard definitive treatment – knee replacement, still leaves a large chunk of patients without pain relief. So according to IOM we have a system where the doctors seeing these patients weren’t educated about how to treat pain and as a result many of these patients end up on needless and dangerous narcotics, and the economic cost is huge and ballooning. Regrettably, the recent ACA (aka ObamaCare) is unlikely to make any of this better, as putting large government panels in charge of mandated federal treatment guidelines for pain is a recipe for disaster. If past is prologue, these panels will be seeded by experts who are paid consultants for pharma companies producing pain meds. This will result in federal guidelines to prescribe more pain meds. The problem is that the absolute cheapest way to manage chronic pain is narcotics, but this isn’t the best way for patients. The best thing for patients is actually finding and fixing the cause of the pain. This has already begun, as at least one company has already received federal approval for the use of a very strong and long acting (read addictive) narcotic to manage moderate osteoarthritis pain.  So which set of big forces will ultimately win this battle royal? The pharma approach of using addictive narcotics to treat pain or the “find the pain and fix it approach”? I know which one we’re rooting for!

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