Chronic pain affects 116 million Americans, says IOM report

Pain is more than just a complaint -- it’s a public health issue. And the time has come to do something about it. So concludes a new report from the Institute of Medicine, written at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The report, mandated by the healthcare overhaul law, estimates that chronic pain costs between $560 billion and $635 billion each year in medical expenses and lost productivity. But, it adds, pain is also personal, affecting each person individually. One-size-fits-all approaches won’t address the problem, the report concludes.

Chronic pain, from cancer to back pain, is influenced by heredity, stress, depression and other factors, and sometimes lingers after the underlying condition is treated because of changes in the nervous system. So pain can be a disease in and of itself. Yet, the report points out, few medical schools require, or even offer, courses on pain.

As one member of the IOM committee, Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of Stanford University’s division of pain management, says in a news release:


“Chronic pain is a disease that affects more people than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined, and yet we spend only a small portion of the budget of the National Institutes of Health on understanding its cause or how to treat it. Our hope is that this report will serve as a wake-up call to our country.”

The new healthcare law requires that the IOM, a National Academy of Sciences arm, make recommendations to Department of Health and Human Services about the “state of the science” in pain research, care and education. The report calls for more of everything – more research, more training in pain for healthcare professionals and expanded insurance coverage of pain care.

And it charges government agencies, healthcare providers, professional groups, educators and everyone (public or private) who pays for healthcare to get the job done.

In short, it calls for a transformation of how the country prevents and treats pain.

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