Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Chronic Pain Called a Public Health Problem

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Chronic Pain Called a Public Health Problem

Article excerpt

Chronic pain is a significant public health problem that must be viewed as a distinct chronic illness, according to a report by a multi-disciplinary panel of pain experts.

"It is a chronic illness with the same level of import as any other common, challenging, extensive chronic illness faced by the American public, [such as] diabetes and cancer," Dr. Russell K. Portenoy, a cochair of the panel, said during a teleconference.

The 15-page report, "A Call to Revolutionize Chronic Pain Care in America: An Opportunity in Health Care Reform," is based on recommendations from a meeting of pain experts who assembled in June 2009 in Washington.

The report, available for free download at, outlines the impact of chronic pain in America and highlights the current challenges of effective care delivery, including a call to improve clinician training in diagnosing and treating the illness. It also includes recommendations for the medical community, government agencies, and Congress to address.

More than 70 million Americans experience some form of chronic pain such as back pain, migraines, and joint pain, said Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, the panel's other cochair. "This leads to over $100 billion in lost productivity and direct medical costs," said Dr. Zeltzer, who directs the pediatric pain program at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We're really facing an epidemic of undertreated pain. We also know that minorities, children, and women are at highest risk for un-dertreatment."

She added that chronic pain is the second leading cause of medically related work absenteeism, which results in more than 50 million lost workdays each year. "The burden of chronic pain is more than that of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined."

Dr. Portenoy, a neurologist who chairs the department of pain medicine and palliative care at Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, said the release of the report is timely in light of the current attention being focused on health care reform. If health care reform occurs, "the front lines of medicine--adult and pediatric primary care--could face enormous strains from millions of new patients seeking care for their pain," he said. …

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