September is Pain Awareness Month. Did you know that over 25 million American adults experience daily pain? This estimate, published in the Journal of Pain and based on 2012 data from the National Health Interview Survey, underscores the enormous toll of human suffering that pain exacts. The data also showed that based on the persistence and bothersomeness of their pain, 14.4 million adults were classified as having the highest level of pain (a lot of pain on most days or every day), with an additional 25.4 million adults experiencing a lot of pain some days or a moderate amount of pain on most days or every day. These combined nearly 40 million people were likely to have worse health status, to use more health care, and to suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain. Pain Awareness Month is an opportunity not only to raise awareness of what people in pain endure, but also to extend gratitude for the support of family and friends, the tireless efforts of care givers to relieve their patients’ sufferings, and the remarkable work by scientists studying pain and new treatments for pain. Research into safe, effective therapies to prevent or treat pain offers the hope of alleviating tragic suffering and reducing the cost to our nation in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars each year in medical care and lost productivity.
In March of this year, the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC)—a cross-agency committee established by the NIH on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services to advance pain research, care, and education in response to the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—released a comprehensive population health-level strategy called the National Pain Strategy. Based on core recommendations from the 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Relieving Pain in America , the National Pain Strategy provides objectives and plans related to key areas of pain and pain care, including professional education and training, public education and communication, prevention and care, service delivery and payment, disparities, and population research. It is our hope that this strategy will help catalyze and coordinate efforts across the Federal government and beyond to relieve the burden of pain, as well as stop the epidemic of opioid-related deaths in the United States. A few steps already have been taken to address objectives of the strategy, including development and validation of a pain screening tool for surveillance research and inclusion of pain related questions in the National Health Interview Survey.
As a companion to the National Pain Strategy, the IPRCC is now developing a Federal Pain Research Strategy, which will serve as a strategic plan for coordinating pain research across federal agencies and departments that fund pain research, including Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and NIH. Five thematic working groups of pain experts currently are drafting the strategy, which will include recommendations in key pain research areas to move the field forward by enhancing the federal research agenda and with the ultimate goal of relieving pain and improving pain care through evidence-based studies.
At the NIH level, the NIH Pain Consortium coordinates research efforts across the many NIH Institutes and Centers with programs and activities that address pain. The goals of the Pain Consortium include: developing a comprehensive pain research agenda for NIH; identifying key opportunities in pain research, particularly those that involve multidisciplinary and trans-NIH participation; pursuing the pain research agenda through public-private partnerships; and increasing visibility for pain research within the NIH intramural and extramural communities, as well as outside the NIH. For example, each year the Pain Consortium holds a symposium featuring NIH-supported scientists whose work has made an important contribution to pain research. This year’s meeting focused on translational pain research, including lessons learned, best animal models, and a number of interesting discoveries and new technologies. If you would like to learn more about some recent advances by NINDS-supported researchers, I encourage you to read the blog post by Dr. Michael Oshinsky, NINDS Program Director for pain.
To learn more about NIH efforts to alleviate pain, I encourage you to browse the NIH Pain Consortium website, which includes health information resources; information about various NIH-wide programs for tackling pain, including the Centers of Excellence in Pain Education and the final report from the workshop Pathways to Prevention: The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain; summaries and webcasts of meetings and symposia hosted by NIH, as well as dates of upcoming events; and current funding opportunities.