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Opioid Awareness

Diagnosing and Treating America’s Problem With Pain Management

Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Nascimento

An estimated 25 million Americans experience chronic pain every day. For many, this pain interferes with their physical and mental health, work productivity and ability to engage in family and community activities. Some people with pain are prescribed opioids, when alternative pain treatments may be effective and safer. At the same time, some people suffer chronic and complex pain syndromes and are prescribed opioids, often after trying alternatives that fail to relieve pain. Understanding that these groups are different is important because they require different approaches for pain management.

Rethinking pain management

Better pain management is one strategy in the 5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Transforming how we treat pain and adjusting the role opioid medications play in pain care are critical components in our efforts to reduce opioid harms while improving the quality of life for people living with chronic pain.

As the nation seeks solutions to the complex opioid crisis, it is critical that we balance our policy and clinical practice strategies to ensure people suffering with pain receive high-quality, evidence-based care while also working to reduce stigma, opioid misuse, addiction and overdose. Physicians and other health professionals can help by better assessing social, psychological and other factors that can support successful pain management and improvement in quality of life; and then by identifying risk factors for adverse outcomes. A coordinated team of health professionals from diverse fields, together with patient and provider education, help people with chronic pain access more effective treatment plans and experience better outcomes.

Translating research to practice

As insurers start covering more non-opioid medications, medical procedures and medical devices to treat pain, increasing numbers of patients will have access to multiple and complementary treatments. To help inform coverage decisions, advancing evidence-based practices is needed. This can include research to better understand how the brain is involved in pain and addiction, and to quickly translate that understanding into improved treatments that provide relief and restore function.

Addressing the complex opioid and pain crises in America requires patient-centered solutions. HHS is committed to bringing its expertise and resources to bear in this fight, including the creation of the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to identify gaps in pain management practices and propose recommendations on addressing gaps to relevant federal agencies and the general public.

Vanila M. Singh, M.D., M.A.C.M., Chief Medical Officer, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Christopher M. Jones, Pharm.D., M.P.H., Director, National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Labor, [email protected]

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