Chronic Pain Part of Life for More Than 100 Million

Article excerpt

Byline: Lauran Neergaard Associated Press

WASHINGTON Nearly a third of Americans experience long-lasting pain

the kind that lingers for weeks to months and too often feel stigma rather than relief from a health care system poorly prepared to treat them, the Institute of Medicine reports.

The staggering tab: Chronic pain is costing the nation at least $558 billion a year in medical bills, sick days and lost productivity, the report found. That's more than the cost of heart disease, the No. 1 killer.

All kinds of ailments can trigger lingering pain, from arthritis to cancer, spine problems to digestive disorders, injuries to surgery. Sometimes, chronic pain can be a disease all its own, the report stressed.

Whatever the cause, effective pain management is "a moral imperative," the report concludes, urging the government, medical groups and insurers to take a series of steps to transform the field.

"We're viewing this as a critical issue for the United States," said Dr. Philip Pizzo, Stanford University's dean of medicine, who chaired the months-long probe.

For too long, doctors and society alike have viewed pain "with some prejudice, a lot of judgment and unfortunately not a lot of informed fact," he said.

The toll isn't surprising, said Dr. Doris K. Cope, pain chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who paused between patients to read the report. The population's getting older and less fit, and more survivors of diseases like cancer live for many years with side effects from treatments that saved them.

Too many patients think a pill's the answer, she said, when there are multiple different ways to address pain

including physical therapy, stress reduction, weight loss, and teaching coping skills. Patients who take control of their pain fare better, but too many have unrealistic expectations.

"Pain is not simple," Cope said. "We as physicians need to be healers and educators as well as technicians. We certainly don't want to be pill mills."

Doctors do worry about overprescribing narcotic painkillers, and law enforcement steps to fight the serious problem of prescription drug abuse can be one barrier to pain care. But the institute countered that it's far more likely for a pain patient to get inadequate care than for a drug-seeker to walk out with an inappropriate prescription. …