By Dera Harvey, MSN, RN
According to the Institute of Medicine, “over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain which is more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined” (1).
This number does not account for the number of people who suffer with acute pain, nor does it account for the financial impact pain has on the individual. According to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report titled Relieving Pain in America, A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research, “the total cost of health care due to pain ranges from $560 billion to $635 billion in the United States, which combines the medical costs of pain care and the economic costs related to disability days and lost wages and productivity” (2). Pain also impacts a person’s mental health and quality of life. Many people experience life-changing anxiety and depression directly correlated to the severity of the pain they experience.
In order to relieve pain and get their lives back, treating pain becomes a priority for the sufferer who seeks out the assistance of a health care provider. Over the last decade, prescription pain management became the go to method for treating pain. Opioids became commonplace in this market because they work by altering the perception of pain. Opioids, referred to as narcotics, can become habit forming and tolerance to the prescribed dose can develop. Once tolerance develops, a person needs a higher dose of the opioid to achieve the same effect previously experienced with a lower dose. Eventually the patient is cut-off and can no longer receive opioids from their health care provider. A person, who has become dependent on opioids, will go through physical and psychological withdrawal if opioids are withdrawn abruptly. They will often turn to taking other peoples’ prescriptions, buying opioids on the streets, and even to a cheaper, more dangerous opioid- heroin.
I got hurt on the job. My doctor prescribed Lortab and that was supposed to help me. I became addicted, lost my job and my family – and my back pain never went away. – Anonymous Prairie View Addictions Treatment Center patient
For the above reasons, treating pain with opioids has led to widespread abuse, addiction and death for many pain sufferers. “Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids—including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin—nearly quadrupled, and over 165,000 people have died from prescription opioid overdoses” (3). Pain can be managed safely and opioid-related deaths can be prevented. Pain sufferers need to be provided proper pain management along with receiving information about alternative options for treatment. They need to be told the truth about opioids, including the likelihood for the development of tolerance and dependence.
Opioids are like a bandage for pain. They cover up the underlying cause of pain for a short period of time and when the bandage falls off, the pain is still there. True pain management needs to be individualized and include treatment options that target the cause of pain while improving coping skills.
- Institute of Medicine Report from the Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education:Relieving Pain in America, A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research. The National Academies Press, 2011.
- National Centers for Health Statistics, Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans 2006, Special Feature: Pain.
- The United States Department of Health and Human Services . (2016, June). About The Epidemic. Retrieved from Opioids: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Factsheet-opioids-061516.pdf