Published by NPR

The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction.

But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash.

“We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to,” says Bilsky, “But it’s been hard to get a practical drug.”

Bilsky is moderating a panel on pain, addiction and opioid abuse at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.

Brain scientists have become increasingly interested in pain and addiction as opioid use has increased. About 2 million people in the U.S. now abuse opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But at least 25 million people suffer from chronic pain, according to an analysis by the National Institutes of Health. That means they have experienced daily pain for more than three months.

The question is how to cut opioid abuse without hurting people who live with pain. And brain scientists think they are getting closer to an answer.

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