Relieving Pain in America (2011)

In June 2011, after seven months of deliberation, the Institute of Medicine (IOM, since renamed the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine) released its first comprehensive report on chronic pain, Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research, alerting Congress and the American public to the enormity of this growing public health epidemic. The effort was mandated by the US Congress and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In the weeks following the report’s release, more than 1,500 media outlets featured stories on chronic pain, the IOM report and its major findings, helping to raise public awareness of the gravity of this issue.

An analysis undertaken as part of the study found that chronic pain is one of the most prevalent and costly health conditions in America, affecting at least 100 million American adults, with an annual cost of at least $560-635 billion. The report also concluded that once pain becomes chronic, it can cause changes in the nervous system (i.e., the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves) and become a distinct chronic disease in itself.

The report called for a coordinated national effort to transform how our society understands and approaches pain management and prevention. Committee chair, Philip Pizzo, MD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University stated, “All too often, prevention and treatment of pain are delayed, inaccessible, or inadequate. Patients, health care providers, and our society need to overcome misperceptions and biases about pain.” The landmark report also included a blueprint for implementing the committee’s 16 major recommendations, assigning tasks to several federal health agencies, private and public organizations, health care providers, medical professional and patient advocacy organizations, private insurers and academic institutions.

Due to its significant toll on individuals and society, the Committee concluded that pain warrants a much higher level of attention and dedication of federal resources within federal health and research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, along with a designated “lead entity” within these agencies who is accountable for coordinating and advancing internal efforts, as well as reporting back to Congress and the public.

TMJA worked cooperatively with a number of medical professional and patient advocacy organizations for many months following the report’s release to encourage the US Congress to convene a hearing on this issue. The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions agreed, and in February 2012, held the first hearing on the long-neglected topic entitled, Pain in America: Exploring Challenges to Relief, which included testimony from CPRA Director, Christin Veasley.

The hearing was the first of many steps to begin the implementation of the report recommendations, building upon federal research efforts to significantly improve the quality of medical care provided to those affected by chronic pain.