We Need a Declaration of War Against Chronic Pain

By Carol Levy, Columnist

When my neuro-ophthalmologist wrote to a surgeon asking him to evaluate me for trigeminal neuralgia surgery he said, “She is being victimized by her pain.”

After I had undergone a number of neurosurgical procedures and treatments, one of the neurosurgeons wrote back, “We have used every weapon in our armamentarium.”

Many in the pain community use the terms “pain survivor” and “pain warrior.”

Looking at pain in the context of war is easy.  In times of war, the enemy is defined as “something harmful or deadly.”  Pain is certainly harmful.  And some patients die from their pain, some naturally and some, sadly, by their own hand.

The government declares a “war” on opioid abuse. But instead of fighting the abusers, illegal sales, pill mills, criminal cabals, unscrupulous doctors and patients who act criminally, they carpet bomb and ignore the innocent casualties.

The result emboldens the enemy (pain), and winds up costing innocent patients, doctors, insurance companies and ultimately the rest of the country.

It is a proven threat in other ways as well. People living with chronic pain who are employed use more sick days then those without pain. Those whose pain is untreated or undertreated may become disabled and leave the work force altogether. The cost of lost productivity alone is estimated at up to $335 billion a year.

Add in the cost of healthcare and the total economic cost of chronic pain is estimated at $635 billion annually, more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The government has declared war on those diseases. But for some reason chronic pain and its costs are ignored or denied.

War is a competition between opposing forces. Instead of pain patients and the government working together to appease the scourge of chronic pain, we have chosen sides. One side just wants the pain to go away. The other side cares more about fighting the “opioid epidemic.” The only weapon we have is our voice.

The U.S. Senate repeatedly refused to pass the National Pain Care Policy Act, despite the House passing it in 4 separate sessions, starting in 2005.

Republican congressional leaders now want to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which would include the repeal of Section 4305, which calls for more research, education and training in pain care. Another battle being lost by the pain community.

Our goals may be different. As a patient, we want the pain to end. As a country we want the soaring cost of care to end. If we can just find a way to end the pain, we will reduce, and maybe even end, the cost to the country.

It will take more than a detente between the government and pain patients. It requires an alliance – with active involvement on both sides.

War is hell. So too is chronic pain. It is time the battle was joined. By country and by patient.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.