PBS Documentary Brings Chronic Pain Out of Shadows

By Pat Anson, Editor

Many chronic pain sufferers are frustrated with how they are depicted in the media – often as lazy, whining, drug seeking addicts.

A new documentary that's begun airing on local PBS stations is trying to change that narrative.

“I wanted to give a voice to people who live in the shadows. People in pain are often ignored and treated as outcasts or druggies,” says Lynn Webster, MD, a leading expert on pain management, past President of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, and co-producer of “The Painful Truth”



“The film tries to demonstrate the lack of humanity that exists today towards people in pain. It also reveals some of flaws in our public policy that has contributed to the current pain and addiction crisis. I hope that the film will be a seed for a cultural transformation in attitudes and respect for the most hurting among us.”

The hour-long documentary is a sequel to Webster’s 2015 award-winning book, The Painful Truth, in which he shares the personal stories of chronic pain patients he treated for over 30 years in the Salt Lake City, Utah area. 

Webster may be retired now as a practicing physician, but he’s determined to have pain sufferers treated with more compassion and respect, not only by the media, but by government, regulators, insurers and their own doctors.

“I've had patients who begged me for alternatives to opioids when their insurance wouldn't cover anything else that would give them relief,” says Webster. “I've had patients who could not find a respite from their pain and chose to end their suffering by taking their own life. I've cried with, and comforted, the caregivers of my patients, people who are on the front lines every single day doing everything they can to help their loved ones regain the life they once knew.”

Webster and co-producer Craig Worth traveled over 70,000 miles gathering stories from patients and documenting their daily struggles. They also interviewed caretakers, doctors, patient advocates, addiction specialists and law enforcement officers.

The Painful Truth has already aired in a number of markets. For a listing of PBS stations and air dates, click here.  

The documentary can also be watched online, courtesy of PBS in Montana, by clicking here.

Webster is encouraging pain sufferers to reach out to their local PBS stations and ask them to broadcast The Painful Truth. He says when documentaries air on local public television, it is common for the host station to include a panel discussion with community members.

“If your local public station decides to air this documentary and you would be willing to make yourself available for a panel discussion, I would encourage you to reach out to your station to offer your participation. It could be a great opportunity to discuss how important it is to transform the way pain is perceived, judge and treated,” Webster says.

“I am realistic about the film. It won't be the solution, but it may open some eyes and more importantly some hearts that could result in better pain care in America.”

For a preview of The Painful Truth, watch the clip below: