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National Pain Policy

National Pain Strategy: Treating Pain While Keeping Patients Safe

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Through the National Pain Strategy, we believe that we can lessen our patients’ pain, while keeping them safe.

Pain. We all feel it at some point in our lives, but some of us feel it on a chronic, unrelenting basis.  It may have started with an injury, or perhaps we have an illness. But whatever the cause, pain that persists has a way of affecting everything we do: sleep, exercise, work – even our ability to enjoy life. And after a while, its debilitating nature can lead to strained relationships with friends, family members and even our health care providers.

Treatment approaches to chronic pain are now complicated by an opioid epidemic that resulted, in part, from longstanding prescribing practices for opioid pain medications that we now know were frequently inappropriate.

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has tackled this issue through an opioid initiative, and as part of this initiative, the Office of the Surgeon General launched the Turn the Tide Rx campaign. This campaign seeks to communicate directly to medical professionals about the addictive nature of prescription opioids and about how to treat pain safely and effectively. A key aspect of this campaign is about raising awareness of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, which is intended to reduce the inappropriate use of opioids, increase the use of effective non-opioid pain treatments and raise awareness of the addiction complications caused by opioid pain medications.

Last May, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health released a National Pain Strategy, in order to ensure that pain is treated as the public health problem it really is and that people suffering from pain are treated equitably and with the dignity they deserve. The report, which we are in the process of implementing, identifies the key steps that need to be taken to improve how we prevent, assess and treat pain in this country. These include actions needed to improve the overall quality of pain care and to increase access to appropriate pain treatment for minority, vulnerable, stigmatized and underserved populations who are at risk for inadequate treatment of pain.

Much of the media coverage on this topic has tended to focus on the dangers of prescription opioids (a critical issue), without acknowledging that for some, the treatment of chronic pain can safely include these medications. The bottom line is that people who suffer from chronic pain require evidence-based, interdisciplinary approaches to pain treatment that should include a variety of options that focus on individual needs. Sometimes patients may require opioid medications, but frequently, other treatments can be more effective. Our goal is to balance access to appropriate pain treatment while reducing the health harms associated with inappropriate opioid use.

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