President and CEO, American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 50 million American adults suffer from chronic pain — that’s more than those affected by cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. Costs associated with chronic pain are estimated at a staggering $635 billion per year, exceeding annual fees for other prevalent diseases. Complicating things further, 40 to 80 percent of chronic pain patients are misdiagnosed.
For people with autoimmune disease, the majority of whom are women, treating and managing acute and chronic pain remains a challenge and, unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
We hear from chronic pain sufferers about the daily uphill battles — individual struggles that do not easily fit in categories or treatment scenarios. Pain does not manifest the same way in all patients. The pain generated from arthritis, migraines, acute injuries, and medical procedures are all different.
Patients with the same autoimmune disease are impacted by conditions in different ways, and the pain and suffering is personalized, requiring a variety of pain management options to meet the individual’s needs, and improve quality of life and wellness.
Finding alternative treatments is critical for those in search of relief. Over the past two decades, only a small number of treatments other than commercial opioids have been approved for chronic pain due primarily to the challenges associated with the lack of research.
Pain is often considered “subjective,” making research and development for new treatment options “high risk.” Unfortunately, less research means fewer innovative solutions, and therefore fewer new options for chronic pain sufferers.
Access to doctor-prescribed medicines and treatments is also essential for chronic pain sufferers. Restrictions to the right medicines at the right time hampers patients’ ability to reduce pain and increase wellness.
These restrictions include step therapy, a harmful practice used by insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers that requires patients to first try — and have their bodies reject — medicines that are preferred on the plan’s drug formulary before they will cover other, more expensive medicines. This puts patients at higher risk, especially the more than 50 million Americans with autoimmune disease.
In today’s COVID-19 environment, patients don’t need more hurdles. They deserve our full understanding, assistance, and alternatives.
There is promising progress. Efforts to increase innovation and discover new pain management medicines and treatments are underway, creating new hope and possibilities for patients that include increased patient education, and additional research and resources to identify new non-addictive alternatives, particularly in light of the opioid crisis.
Policymakers are also taking notice. Congress recently passed The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, the “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act” for short. It provides resources to develop new, individualized approaches for treating pain — particularly non-opioid medicines — as well as preventing and treating opioid use disorders.
We are on the brink of a new era of pain management. Patient groups, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders are actively advocating for improving and making available new treatments for pain, particularly non-addictive options. Patient education and awareness is key.
Our collective efforts are making a difference as we aim for life-changing relief from the debilitating pain so many face with arthritis, autoimmune disease, and other conditions. We will work together to improve the health, wellness, and quality of life for all Americans.