By Todd Zwillich
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) – A coalition of healthcare groups on Wednesday called for increased national attention to untreated chronic pain, and backed a congressional bill designed to boost research and doctors’ knowledge about treating pain.
Experts urged Congress to pass a bill that would spend $61 million over three years on a National Center for Pain and Palliative Care Research at the National Institutes of Health. The bill would also create six regional pain research centers where leading scientific teams could draw on federal funds to conduct studies and boost clinical training.
The bill, called the National Pain Care Policy Act of 2003, would fund a national medal campaign on pain awareness, and boost pain treatment benefits in the Medicare+Choice managed care program.
“Patients arrive every day taking high doses of pain-killing medication, yet they are desperate and demoralized,” said Dr. Joel R. Saper, a professor of neurology at Michigan State University and a past president of the American Headache Society.
As many as 50 million Americans report chronic pain due to arthritis, back problems, cancer, and other ailments, according to a survey released by the American Pain Society. The US Surgeon general estimated that chronic pain costs the economy $100 billion per year in lost worker productivity and health costs.
As many as half of all chronic pain patients also report depression, according to a 1997 American Pain Society Survey conducted in Michigan.
Still, less than 5 percent of US medical schools require trainees to take courses in pain management, said Dr. Marc B. Hahn, dean of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth.
“At the root of this is an attitude of prejudice toward the pain patient,” Saper said.
“The doctors get to the point where they can’t handle it properly,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the bill’s sponsor, said of patients with lasting pain.
Supporters said that the bill would help increase awareness among young physicians and doctors in training about pain and how to treat it