LEXINGTON In an article within the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, Phillip Pizzo, MD, and Noreen Clark, PhD, noted that “the magnitude of pain in the United States is astounding. More than 116 million Americans have pain that persists for weeks to years.”1 That total was higher than the number of Americans “affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.”2 Thus, pain is a devastating and debilitating chronic disease that physicians, especially pain management physicians, must treat and attempt to relieve, through a variety of modalities, including the prescription of pain medicine. However, in the last several years, pain patients have been made to feel like drug addicts even if they are responsibly being prescribed and taking their medications. And, physicians have come under much scrutiny and criticism over the prescription of pain medicines, especially the prescription of opioids.
Is there an opioid problem in the United States? Yes. Do healthcare providers need to be cognizant that individuals are abusing prescription drugs? Of course. Should healthcare providers not prescribe appropriate doses of medication for fear that they will be placed on a list based on how many prescriptions they write or be in constant fear of prosecution? No. Not if they are appropriately trained and appropriately evaluating and treating the patients for whom they are writing the medications.
At a multidisciplinary pain clinic such as The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass, the pain physicians use their skill and expertise in pain management to provide various treatment techniques to give quality care to the pain patients they evaluate and treat. Interventional therapy, physical medicine, and rehabilitation/physical therapy and behavioral medicine are among the modalities available to patients. Along with those modalities, however, many patients still require medication management to alleviate their pain, including the prescribing of opioids. To many, such treatment allows them to lead a relatively pain free life, allowing them to engage in activities (bathing, exercising, picking up their children or grandchildren) that most of us take for granted.
With the help of Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER), the pain physicians at The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass monitor patients’ prescriptions to ensure patients are only receiving the medication that they have been prescribed by their treating physicians. Moreover, with an in-house lab, the physicians are also able to ensure that the patients are appropriately taking their medications. By using these tools, as well as the modalities described above, pain practitioners can appropriately treat and help alleviate the pain of those Americans suffering from this debilitating condition. Additionally, by appropriately treating their pain, including in some cases prescribing opioids, pain practitioners are able to ensure that the patients are taking legally prescribed medications, rather than resorting to treating their pain with illegal, illicit street drugs.
In my role as CEO of The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass, I would encourage the public to view pain practitioners in the same light as other physicians helping patients with chronic, debilitating diseases. I strongly urge us to to be cognizant to not rush to negative judgment, and instead work to acknowledge responsible pain management and, if necessary, treatment of opioid abuse as a shared goal, in order to save the lives of those who use pain medications responsibly and those who, sadly, have suffered with addiction. Too often, the press and political leaders we elect are not researching both sides of the issue before commenting, and their powerful platforms can lead to a one-sided telling of a story that is, at its core, ultimately more complex.
Heather C. Wright, Esq. is CEO of The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass. She can be reached at (859) 278 1316 Ext 329 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
1Alleviating Suffering 101- Pain Relief in the United States, N Engl J Med 3663 January 19, 2012.
2Relieving Pain in America, A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies June 2011.