Published by The Hill – Written By Christin Veasley and Terrie Cowley

Congress and the administration are acting quickly – as they should – to address America’s prescription opioid crisis. But unless policymakers expand their approach, a lasting solution will fall short.

Bills now moving through Congress focus on opioid misuse, prescription practices and treatments for people after they have become addicted. Indeed, these are serious problems that deserve immediate attention. But almost no one is asking why there is a need for people with chronic pain to take opioids in the first place. This is a shortsighted but hugely consequential omission. Until the nation tackles the underlying challenge of chronic pain, we will never end the scourge of opioid abuse.

Research has shown that pain lasting more than six months can become a neurological disease in itself, like multiple sclerosis, causing measurable changes in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Chronic pain is also a pervasive — and expensive — public health crisis. The 2011 Institute of Medicine study, Relieving Pain in America, found that 4 in 10 American adults live with some level of chronic pain, at a cost of over $1.6 billion per day. Our nation’s veterans know this all too well; a Department of Veterans Affairs study found that 80 percent of veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from chronic pain.

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