Pain Awareness Month at the National Institutes of Health and Beyond

Pain Awareness Month at the National Institutes of Health and Beyond

September is Pain Awareness Month. Pain conditions affect many millions of people worldwide. Whether intermittently or on a daily basis, pain exacts an enormous toll of human suffering. We can take the opportunity of Pain Awareness Month to show our appreciation for family and friends who keep us going through tough times, the dedication of clinicians to relieve their patients’ suffering, and the remarkable work by scientists searching for effective pain treatments. Research into safe, effective therapies to prevent or treat chronic 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 treatment and lost productivity. 

Over the past 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 draft version of a comprehensive population health-level strategy called the National Pain Strategy. The document currently is being revised based on public comments received this spring. 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, service delivery and reimbursement, prevention and care, disparities, and population studies. This strategy should help catalyze and coordinate efforts across the Federal government and beyond to improve the health of people suffering with pain. The National Pain Strategy evolved as concerns over prescription pain medication abuse and adverse effects escalated. If its recommendations are effective in improving pain care, then the need for opioids in pain management might be mitigated.

To fulfill the IOM recommendations on pain, the IPRCC is now developing a Federal Pain Research Strategy, which will serve as a strategic plan and framework for coordinating pain research across federal agencies that fund pain research, including AHRQ, CDC, DoD, FDA, NIH and VA. In the coming months, five thematic working groups of pain experts will convene to draft the research strategy, which will consist of recommendations in key pain research areas to move the field forward with the ultimate goal of relieving pain and improving pain care through evidence-based studies by enhancing the federal research agenda.

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; increasing visibility for pain research within the NIH intramural and extramural communities, as well as outside the NIH; and pursuing the pain research agenda through public-private partnerships. As part of its mission, the Pain Consortium also interacts with other government and private entities to promote the pain research agenda. For example, the Pain Consortium works with the IPRCC to develop the Interagency Pain Research Portfolio Database. The database contains information on pain research and training activities supported by the Federal Government – publically provided, for the first time, in one easy-to-search place.

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 NIH Blueprint Grand Challenge on Chronic Pain and the Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain; summaries and webcasts of meetings and symposia hosted by NIH, as well as dates of upcoming events; and current funding opportunities. I also invite you to read the blog post by Dr. Michael Oshinsky, NINDS Program Director for pain, where he discusses current pain research we are funding.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015