'Robust Response' to National Pain Strategy

By Pat Anson, Editor

Public reaction to the National Pain Strategy has been “very robust” according to the co-chair of the government committee that released a draft version of the report in early April.

Today marks the deadline for public comments on the 72-page report, a long awaited study that calls chronic pain a threat to public health, and identifies several areas where physicians and the healthcare system are failing pain sufferers.

“I think it’s safe to say that there was a very robust response,” said Linda Porter, PhD, co-chair of the National Institutes of Health’s Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC).

“I feel  like we really got the word out widely and the comments are coming in from a very broad range of the community, ranging from the professional societies, individual patients, coalitions of patients that have come together, and patient advocacy. So yes, I’m comfortable with it. We’ve gotten a good range of comments from a really broad set of folks.”

Some pain patients and advocates have complained that the IPRCC was dominated by academic researchers, physicians and government bureaucrats – and not enough input was sought from pain sufferers during the drafting of the National Pain Strategy (NPS).

“The NPS is essentially an underpowered, unrealistic, and undemocratic occupational strategy of some pain experts and professionalized lay experts, who were chosen because of their ideology and rank in certain organizations and government,” wrote patient advocate David Becker in his public comment on the NPS.

“There is no evidence that a survey or needs assessment of what Americans want from pain care was done or considered by the NPS and the NPS fails to make a case for their ‘evidence based, high quality, interdisciplinary, integrated multimodal biopsychosocial model’ as being what people in pain actually want out of pain care -- and especially those Americans in pain who will be forced to live with a plan they had no say in developing.”

Porter said she could not release the number of comments that have come in during the public comment period, but she was satisfied patients had a voice in drafting the National Pain Strategy.

“We felt very strongly that their voice had to be heard,” Porter told Pain News Network. “We had patients and patient advocates on every single one of the work groups, on the oversight panel, and on the IPRCC. There was actually a large group of patient advocates and we made sure that each of the working groups had at least a voice on it and some of them had several.”

A list of members on the IPRCC’s oversight committee can be found here. Two of the panel’s 14 members are pain sufferers and/or patient advocates. The rest are longtime experts in the field of pain management, including several who helped write the 2011 Institute of Medicine report, “Relieving Pain in America,” which estimated that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

Implementing the Plan

One member of the oversight committee said he found it “really exciting in terms of changing the culture of pain,” but admitted there were “minor things” about the NPS that bothered him.

“There is nothing in it about pediatric pain. There’s not as much emphasis on research as we would always like, particularly basic science is left out of it,” said Greg Terman, MD, an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Washington who is president of the American Pain Society.

“The general problem that I had as a member of the oversight committee is how are we going to implement any of the recommendations? And the answer is I don’t think anyone knows yet, it’s not even final. But I am optimistic.”

The NPS calls for significant improvement in pain management practices, including better education in pain care for physicians, more collaboration between primary care physicians and pain specialists, broader insurance coverage of pain treatments, and more research. But nowhere in the report is the cost for any of the recommendations even discussed.

“That was not our responsibility nor did we have the ability to estimate what these would cost,” says Linda Porter. “It was really out of our scope and we were not asked to do that. It will certainly come up in the planning stage.”

Porter said cost estimates will be handled by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is still in the “discussion and planning stage” of deciding which recommendations to implement first. She expects a plan to be announced in late summer or early fall of this year.

“Things move slowly in government I hear,” says Terman. “It’s there, at least in writing, what needs to be done from our expert opinion. Having it gathered all in one area has never been done before and maybe if we can’t make it happen in the next year, maybe in a few more years. If it’s still sitting there waiting to be implemented, sadly there will still be patients waiting to be helped.”