Pets Help Take Our Minds Off Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Pets make good companions, keep their owners physically active and help us enjoy life. But did you know that pets can also help take our minds off pain?

That’s one of the findings from a new National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted by AARP and the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy. Researchers surveyed over 2,000 American adults aged 50 to 80, who answered a wide range of questions online about the health benefits of pet ownership.

Companionship, social connection and physical activity were positive side effects of pet ownership for many poll respondents.

People said their pets helped them enjoy life (88%), make them feel loved (86%), help reduce stress (79%), keep them physically active (64%) and help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms (60%), including taking their mind off pain (34%).

For those who said their health was fair or poor, pet ownership offers the most benefits. More than 70 percent of those older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and nearly half (46%) said their pets help distract them from pain.

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"Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great enjoyment," says Mary Janevic, PhD, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health. "They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved."

More than half of those who owned pets said they did so specifically to have a companion and nearly two-thirds said having a pet helps connect them to other people.

"We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support," says Cathleen Connell, PhD, a professor at the U-M School of Public Health. “Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the lifespan. Helping older adults find low cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health."

While pets come with benefits, they can also bring concerns. Nearly one in five older adults (18%) said having a pet puts a strain on their budget. Some owners even put their animals' needs ahead of their own health.

"For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle. Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make pet care difficult," said Janevic.

"More activity, through dog walking or other aspects of pet care, is almost always a good thing for older adults. But the risk of falls is real for many, and six percent of those in our poll said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet," said poll director Preeti Malani, MD. “At the same time, given the importance of pets to many people, the loss of a pet can deal a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should be attuned to."

More than half of older adults (55%) reported having a pet. Among pet owners, the majority (68%) had dogs, 48% had cats, and 16% had a small pet such as a bird, fish, or hamster.

Over half of pet owners (53%) reported that their pets sleep in their bed. Dog lovers are often told that’s a bad idea, but a recent study found an "overwhelmingly positive" response from owners who say they slept better with their dogs.

Survey: CDC Guideline Having ‘Horrendous’ Impact on Pain Patients

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The CDC opioid prescribing guideline has harmed pain patients, significantly reduced their access to pain care, and forced many patients to turn to alcohol and other drugs for pain relief, according to a large new survey of over 6,000 patients and healthcare providers by Pain News Network. 

Today marks the third anniversary of the CDC guideline, which discourages the prescribing of opioid medication for chronic pain. Although voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, the guideline has been implemented as mandatory policy by many states, insurers, pharmacies and throughout the U.S. healthcare system. The survey found many unintended consequences for both patients and providers.

Over 85 percent of patients say the guideline has made their pain and quality of life worse. And nearly half say they have considered suicide because their pain is poorly treated.

“The guidelines are affecting legitimate patients in a horrendous way while the actual addicts are just turning to street drugs,” said one pain sufferer.  “My quality of life has been so drastically reduced I attempted to take my life last year. Fortunately, I was found before I could bleed out but every single day has been an absolute struggle.”

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Over two-thirds of healthcare providers are worried about being sanctioned or prosecuted for prescribing opioids. Rather than risk going to prison, many have stopped treating pain, closed their practice or retired.

“Many of those doctors are scared to do their job, leaving patients in unnecessary pain, both acute and chronic. Tapering patients on chronic stable doses of opioids because some people abuse opioids is not just unjustified, it’s cruel and harmful,” a doctor wrote.

The PNN survey was conducted online and through social media from February 17 to March 15.  A total of 5,856 patients and 157 doctors and other healthcare providers in the U.S. participated.

Asked if the guideline is helpful or harmful, 96 percent of respondents said it has harmed pain patients — a startling verdict for an agency with a mission statement that says “CDC saves live and protects people from health threats.”

“Cannot understand or know why the CDC will not speak out on the harm done to undertreated, denied and abandoned patients,” one patient said.

“It was a criminal act. The outcome was foreseen, the guidelines were written in secret, and the carnage that we predicted has come to pass,” said an emergency medicine physician.

“They should be revoked. People are suffering and committing suicide due to inability to tolerate suffering. This is inhumane,” another provider wrote. “It blemishes CDC’s reputation.”

HAS CDC GUIDELINE BEEN HELPFUL OR HARMFUL TO PAIN PATIENTS?

Opioid Prescriptions Declining

Opioid prescriptions in the U.S. have been declining for several years and now stand at their lowest level since 2003. The drop in prescriptions appears to have accelerated since the CDC guideline was released in 2016.

Eight out of ten patients said they are being prescribed a lower dose or that their opioid prescriptions were stopped. Many indicated they were forcibly tapered off opioids without an effective alternative.

“I had my pain under control until my doctor told me he was cutting my pain meds by half,” a patient said. “He lied to me, he cut them by 85% and now I am home ridden! The CDC guidelines are a disaster to the chronic/intractable pain patients.”

“I have lost all quality of life and many days I no longer want to live with this pain,” another patient wrote. “I've never abused my meds, yet I'm being treated like a drug addict.”

“VA doctors are afraid to prescribe any opioids or narcotics, because of mandatory education courses given to all VA doctors,” a nurse with the Veterans Administration said. “The veterans are not being treated for chronic pain. Suicides have increased!”

“Our doctors should not have to choose between treating their patients in a safe meaningful way or feeling like they could lose their licenses to practice,” another patient said.

HOW HAS CDC GUIDELINE AFFECTED YOUR OPIOID PRESCRIPTIONS?

Patient Abandonment

It’s not just opioids that patients are losing access to. Nearly 9 out 10 pain patients report problems finding a doctor that’s willing to treat them. Many say they’ve been discharged or abandoned by a doctor or had problems with a pharmacy or insurer. Only a small percentage of patients have been referred to addiction treatment.

  • 73% of patients say it is harder to find a doctor

  • 15% unable to find a doctor

  • 34% abandoned or discharged by a doctor

  • 27% insurer refused to pay for a pain treatment

  • 27% pharmacy refused to fill an opioid prescription

  • 5% given a referral for addiction treatment

“As an RN in pain management I have seen decreased quality of life, increased pain and anxiety for patients. Providers fear for their license and livelihood. My staff spends HOURS on the phone trying to authorize scripts,” a nurse wrote.

“Most doctors in our area are refusing to prescribe any opioids, even the pain management doctors. This is forcing some patients to buy street drugs,” a primary care physician said.

Desperate Measures

The widespread denial of care has many patients taking desperate measures for pain relief. One in five are hoarding opioid medication because they fear losing access to the drugs. Many others are using alcohol, marijuana or the herbal supplement kratom for pain relief. A small percentage are using illicit drugs. Few have found medical treatments that work as well as prescription opioids.

  • 22% of patients hoarding opioid medication

  • 11% obtained opioid medication from family, friends or black market

  • 26% used medical marijuana for pain relief

  • 20% used alcohol for pain relief

  • 20% used kratom for pain relief

  • 4% used illegal drugs (heroin, illicit fentanyl, etc.) for pain relief

  • 2% found other treatments that work just as well or better than Rx opioids

“I know seven people personally that have gone to the streets to get pain relief. Four of them died because it was mixed with fentanyl. Two committed suicide,” one patient said.

“Since my doctor stopped prescribing even my small amount of opioids, I deal with days where I can’t even get out of bed because I hurt so much and I’m stuck turning to alcohol, excessive amounts of acetaminophen and NSAIDs,” another patient wrote. “Kratom has been the omly thing that has helped my pain.”

“I have been without a prescription for two years and have been getting medication on the street. I cannot afford this and I have no criminal history whatsoever. I have tried heroin for the first time in my life, out of desperation and thank God, did not like it. It was stronger than anything I need to help with pain,” wrote another patient.

Addiction and Overdoses Still Rising

While the guideline appears to have significantly reduced the dose and quantity of opioid prescriptions, patients and providers overwhelmingly believe it has failed to reduce opioid addiction and overdoses. Nearly 49,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017, but over half of the deaths involved illicit fentanyl or heroin, not prescription opioids.

“They are attacking the wrong problem. Pain patients are under strict scrutiny by their doctors and therefore have an addiction rate lower than the general population. The large numbers of deaths are among those who are using heroin and other illegal drugs,” one patient wrote.

“As a retired substance abuse counselor, these new guidelines do nothing to stop the real addict. It only hurts those of us in chronic pain,” said another patient.

“What happened to care for the elderly, disabled and sick?” asked one patient. “We are not the problem. The amount of prescription pain medicine has significantly gone down but the overdoses are continuing to rise. This is targeting the wrong people!”

HAS CDC GUIDELINE REDUCED OPIOID ADDICTION AND OVERDOSES?

Guideline Revisions Needed

An overwhelming majority (97%) of patients and healthcare providers believe the CDC guideline should be revised. When it released its recommendations in 2016, the agency said it was “committed to evaluating the guideline” and would make future updates “when warranted.” A CDC spokesperson recently told PNN there are several studies underway evaluating the impact of the guideline, but gave no indication that any changes are imminent.

Patients and providers say the the guideline is misunderstood, based on faulty evidence and needs revision.

“It is a falsified document created only to satisfy political pressure which demanded such a report. There is no medical/scientific evidence to support the conclusions made in the document,” a patient wrote.

“The CDC needs to correct their glaring error. They need to make sure that every doctor in America is re-educated and reassured that they can treat people with serious pain disorders without being jailed,” said another patient. “The CDC needs to stand up and admit their mistake, they need to correct the damage.”

“While the guidelines are useful, they should not have been made into mandatory rules followed by states and insurers. The patients with chronic pain issues are suffering. Can we revisit them?” asked a palliative care doctor.

SHOULD CDC GUIDELINE BE REVISED?

For more survey results and comments on the guideline, see “What Pain Patients Say About CDC Opioid Guideline” and “What Doctors Say About the CDC Opioid Guideline.”

Over 6,200 people responded to PNN’s survey. In tabulating the results, we did not include the responses of caretakers, spouses and friends of patients or those who live outside the U.S. We greatly appreciate everyone who participated and will be releasing more survey results in coming days.

A Third of Pain Patients Have Stopped Using Rx Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

Over a third of pain patients (34%) have stopped taking opioid medications because their doctor is no longer willing to prescribe them, according to a large new survey of American adults living with chronic pain.

Eight out of ten patients (84%) say there is an unfair stigma associated with chronic pain, and half said they have lied about or hidden their use of opioid painkillers from others.

“The rise of the opioid epidemic has had a significant impact on those living with chronic pain, and oftentimes the voice of this population has gotten lost. We wanted to shine some light on the experiences of chronic pain sufferers with this research,” said Shai Gozani, PhD, president and CEO of NeuroMetrix, which commissioned the survey.

NeuroMetrix is the creator of Quell, a wearable medical device that uses neurostimulation to relieve chronic pain. The company hired the market research firm of Vanson Bourne to interview 1,500 Americans aged 25 and older, who were suffering from chronic pain for at least three months. An equal number of men and women participated.

The interviews were conducted online in early 2018 -- two years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines that discourage the prescribing of opioids for chronic pain. Although voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, the guidelines have been widely adopted by insurers, regulators and providers throughout  the U.S. healthcare system.

The survey found that most pain patients are cautious about their use of opioids. Sixty-one percent are worried about addiction, a little over half (51%) said they only take opioids when necessary, and 42% don't like their side effects.

The stigma associated with opioids impacts how some patients communicate with their doctors. One out of five (20%) downplay the level of their pain and 13% said they are more cautious when speaking with their doctor. Only 9% of patients said they emphasize their pain level.

Most patients want to try pain therapies besides opioids. Nine out of ten said they are actively looking for new treatment options and most had tried at least one alternative, non-pharmacological therapy.  

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Most Widely Used Alternative Therapies

  • 65% Physical therapy
  • 65% Lotions, rubs and patches
  • 44% Over-the-counter TENS
  • 33% Doctor prescribed TENS
  • 28% Yoga, pilates, meditation
  • 21% Acupuncture
  • 16% Medical marijuana
  • 16% Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • 15% Surgery, implantable devices

The two most common reasons for pain patients to seek alternative treatments is because they don't like the side effects of prescription drugs (43%) and they prefer to treat pain without medication (39%). A majority (59%) don't believe their doctor is completely informed of treatment options outside of prescription drugs.

“These results underscore the need for more research and treatment modalities to support those living with chronic pain, as well as a joint effort among care providers, innovators, government stakeholders and patients to expand the goals of pain treatment," said Gozani.

"If we shift focus to making the end goal of pain treatment about decreasing suffering and disability rather than exclusively pain intensity, we may open ourselves to new possibilities and treatments that will empower those with chronic pain to find relief and gain greater control over their lives.”

You can read the full report, “Flipping the Script: Living with Chronic Pain amid the Opioid Crisis” by clicking here.

Kratom Users Say Ban Will Lead to More Drug Abuse

By Pat Anson, Editor

Kratom is a safe and surprisingly effective treatment for chronic pain and a wide variety of medical conditions, according to a large new survey of kratom consumers. Many say banning the herbal supplement will only lead to more drug abuse and worsen the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The online survey of 6,150 kratom consumers by Pain News Network and the American Kratom Association was conducted after plans were announced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to classify two chemicals in kratom as a Schedule I controlled substances. Unless the scheduling is postponed, the sale and possession of kratom could become a felony as early as September 30.

The survey findings dispel the myth that kratom is used recreationally like marijuana by people who only want to get “high” or intoxicated. The vast majority say they use the herb in teas and supplements solely to treat their medical conditions.

Asked what was the primary reason they used kratom, over half (51%) said they used the herb as a treatment for chronic pain, followed by anxiety (14%), depression (9%), opioid addiction (9%) and alcoholism (3%). Less than two percent said they used kratom recreationally or out of curiosity.

WHAT IS THE PRIMARY REASON YOU USE KRATOM?

“The survey tells us exactly what we’ve been trying to tell the DEA, lawmakers and the general public. The average kratom consumer is nothing like we are being portrayed as,” says Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association.

“The average kratom consumer is a man or woman in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s, who is primarily looking for alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs that either didn’t work for them or had side effects that were unbearable. The survey clearly shows the majority of people are using kratom to manage chronic medical conditions.”

Nine out of ten patients (90%) said kratom was very effective in treating their pain or medical conditions.

Asked if they get high from using kratom, three out of four consumers (75%) said no and 23% said “a little.” Only about 2 percent said they get high from using the herb. Many likened the stimulative effect of kratom to a strong cup of coffee.

"I only take enough kratom to take the edge off. I never get high like I did on pills or marijuana. Just a clearer state of being with some pain relief."

"It's not possible to get high from kratom as that's not what it does. It is in the same family as coffee and acts just like coffee."

"It elevates my mood, gives me energy and helps with the pain."

"I was stable at all times with kratom. Sound minded and alert. In no negative way did it affect my ability to function. If anything, it improved that and my overall happiness in life."

CAN YOU GET "HIGH" FROM KRATOM?

While the DEA maintains that kratom poses “an imminent hazard to public safety” and has been linked to several deaths, the vast majority of kratom consumers believe it is safe to use.

Ninety-eight percent said kratom was not a harmful or dangerous substance and 95% said banning the herb will have a harmful effect on society.

Many have strong feelings about what will happen if kratom is made illegal.

"I believe this is incredibly harmful to the thousands of people who have been able to find relief from a huge variety of issues, but especially those treating an opioid addiction. Those people will be forced back to opiates."

"I believe that the ban on kratom will trigger the biggest uptick in opiate-related deaths that we've seen in decades."

"Banning kratom will in no way protect society from an imminent health hazard, but actually push society further into the deadly opiate epidemic that plagues America today."

"It will kill people if they make kratom Illegal."

"We must utilize every tool possible to combat addiction to dangerous drugs, and banning kratom is like cutting off your nose to spite the face: stupid and unproductive."

WILL BANNING KRATOM BE HELPFUL OR HARMFUL TO SOCIETY?

Given a variety of scenarios on what could happen if kratom becomes illegal, two out of three respondents (66%) said kratom consumer would be more likely to become addicted and overdose on other substances.

Over half (52%) predicted that kratom users would be more likely turn to illegal drugs such as heroin and illicit fentanyl.

Half (51%) also said kratom consumers would be more likely to consider suicide.

Asked what they would do personally if kratom is banned, one out of four (27%) said they would seek to buy kratom on the black market – indicating that many are willing to risk being charged with a felony rather than give up kratom. Less than a third (30%) said they would not buy kratom on the black market.

"Making kratom illegal isn't going to stop people from buying and taking kratom."

"People who want kratom bad enough will find it and keep using it."

"I believe kratom consumers are likely to try multiple strategies, but most likely they will go back to whatever they used prior to kratom and there will likely be a black market for illegal consumption because none of these other options can compete with the efficacy of kratom."

"We will all be forced to go back on the very drugs that kratom helped us get off of! It will kill a whole lot of people! It will undoubtedly cause an increase in suicides, overdoses of illegal drugs like heroin and morphine."

"Banning this leaf is equivocal to signing the death certificates of many. You may as well be sticking the needle into many arms."

IF KRATOM BECOMES ILLEGAL, WOULD YOU SEEK TO BUY IT ON THE BLACK MARKET?

Susan Ash of the American Kratom Assocation estimates that between 3 and 5 million Americans have tried kratom. And she thinks the DEA’s attempt to ban the herb may have actually led more people to try it.

“Probably a quarter of a million have tried it since they put this notice out,” Ash said.

To see the complete survey results, click here.

Click here to see a report on the effectiveness of kratom in treating specific chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines and back pain.

Survey: Opioids Reduced or Stopped for Most Patients

By Pat Anson, Editor

Over two-thirds of pain patients say their opioid medication has been decreased or stopped since the CDC adopted its opioid prescribing guidelines, according to a new survey that also found over half of the patients have considered suicide since the guidelines were implemented.

A total of 1,978 patients participated in the survey, which was conducted through social media and online support groups in recent weeks. The survey was designed by Lana Kirby, a Florida paralegal and chronic pain sufferer who became frustrated by difficulties she faced in obtaining opioid pain medication.

Although unscientific, the survey results are the first broad indication of the impact the CDC guidelines are having on both physicians and patients. Those guidelines, which discourage primary care doctors from prescribing opioids for chronic pain, are meant to be voluntary but are being widely implemented by many different prescribers, according to survey.

“To a person, respondents report that they feel humiliated, degraded, shamed, and stigmatized by the loss of choice over their physician patient alliance and program of care,” said Terri Lewis, PhD, a patient advocate and researcher who conducted an analysis of the survey.

“Many now acknowledge that their doctor’s appointment conversation is all about keeping the physician safe from DEA oversight or license restrictions as opposed to optimizing the consumer’s activity and functioning levels.”

"I am afraid to tell the doctor what I need," said one patient.

“My doctor said he is afraid of the DEA and CDC,” said another.

“My doctor said I cannot be cured so there is no point in treating me for pain,” wrote one patient.

"Because my doctor was arrested other doctors have refused to take on his patients for treatment," said another.

Over 68% of patients said their opioid pain medication has been decreased or discontinued since the  guidelines were released in March.  Nearly 45% were warned by their doctor that additional decreases will be necessary. And just over 50% said they had considered suicide as a way to end their pain.

“It is important to note that CDC’s guidelines are directed to primary care physicians with the suggestion that they should be cautiously and conservatively applied to chronic pain patients with complex needs. That message does not seem to have been received at the physician level, as both primary care and Board Certified pain management practitioners are uniformly applying extreme prescribing restrictions to the regimens of those who replied, even where they had been in long term successful treatment for extensive periods of time without difficulty,” said Lewis.

Other survey findings:

  • 75% of patients said they are not receiving adequate pain control
  • 57% said they had been discharge or abandoned by a doctor because they need opioid treatment
  • 44% said they had problems getting a prescription filled at a pharmacy
  • 90% said their pain levels, activities and social interactions have worsened
  • 97% said they have never been addicted or required treatment for drug abuse

Nearly four out of ten patients (39%) said they had been told by a doctor that they must have an operation or invasive procedure, or they will be discharged from the practice or have their medications reduced.

“Increasingly, respondents are being threatened with pain care protocols that are not optimal, such as epidural injections (or) installation of durable medical equipment. If they refuse, their access to oral medications, even where they have been used impactfully, is systematically reduced or suspended,” said Lewis.

The CDC has had very little to say about the impact of guidelines since their release. As Pain News Network has reported, a top CDC official recently wrote a letter to one patient saying the guidelines were only meant as a “guide” for primary care providers “as they work in consultation with their patients.”

“The Guideline includes a recommendation to taper or reduce dosage only when patient harm outweighs patient benefit of opioid therapy. The Guideline is not a rule, regulation, or law. It is not intended to deny access to opioid pain medication as an option for pain management. It is not intended to take away physician discretion and decision-making,” wrote Debra Houry,  Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention, which oversaw the guidelines’ development.

Medicare Drops Pain Questions in Patient Survey

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has caved into political pressure from Congress and healthcare lobbying organizations by proposing to drop all questions related to pain in patient satisfaction surveys.

The proposed rule change is the latest in a series of steps by the federal government aimed at fighting the so-called opioid epidemic by reducing the prescribing of narcotic pain medication. The policies are meant to prevent addiction and abuse, but have left many pain patients without access to opioids, and feeling marginalized and abandoned by the healthcare system.

At issue in the Medicare rule change is a funding formula that requires hospitals to prove they provide quality care through patient satisfaction surveys. The formula rewards hospitals that provide good care and are rated highly by patients, while penalizing those who do not. 

Critics claim that three pain care questions in the survey -- known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey (HCAHPS) -- encourage doctors to overprescribe opioid pain medication to boost their hospital's scores.

"While there is no empirical evidence of this effect, we propose to remove the pain management dimension from the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program to eliminate any potential financial pressure clinicians may feel to overprescribe pain medications," CMS said in a statement.

"CMS continues to believe that pain control is an appropriate part of routine patient care that hospitals should manage and is an important concern for patients, their families, and their caregivers."

CMS has been under intense political pressure over the last few months to drop the pain questions. In March, 26 U.S. senators sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell claiming "the evidence suggests that physicians may feel compelled to prescribe opioid pain relievers in order to improve hospital performance on quality measures."

Several physician groups have also made the same claim, without offering anything more than anecdotal evidence. Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP)  said the survey "fosters dangerous pain control practices" and even the American Medical Association recently said the surveys "are clearly motivating forces for opioid prescribing."

A top Medicare official disputed those claims in an article published in JAMA. 

"It has been alleged that, in pursuit of better patient responses and higher reimbursement, HCAHPS compels clinicians to prescribe prescription opioids. However, there is no empirical evidence that failing to prescribe opioids lowers a hospital’s HCAHPS scores," wrote Lemeneh Tefera, MD. “Nothing in the survey suggests that opioids are a preferred way to control pain.”

These are the three pain questions in the CMS patient survey::

During this hospital stay, did you need medicine for pain?

During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?

During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?

The agency said it would develop and "field test" alternative questions related to pain and include them in the survey. Public comments on the proposed rule change will be accepted until September 6, 2016.

CMS said the rule changes "are based on feedback from stakeholders, including beneficiary and patient advocates, as well as health care providers, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers and the physician community."

While some politicians and lobbyists may support the CMS decision, pain patients clearly do not. 

Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation recently conducted a survey of over 1,250 pain patients. Nine out of ten said patients should be asked about their pain care in hospital satisfaction surveys. Over half rated the quality of their pain treatment in hospitals as poor or very poor, and over 80 percent said hospital staffs are not adequately trained in pain management. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has adopted guidelines that discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids or chronic pain. The Obama administration has also proposed spending over a billion dollars on opioid addiction treatment. Not one cent is proposed for pain research or for funding alternative treatments for pain.  

Survey: Painkillers Bigger Problem than Alcohol

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new poll is adding further fuel to the fire over opioid abuse and the disproportionate amount of attention it gets compared to other health problems.

The survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of Americans consider the abuse of opioid pain medication an extremely or very serious problem. And four out of ten said they knew someone who was addicted to prescription painkillers, often a close friend or family member.

The problem is so serious that more Americans now consider painkillers a bigger problem than alcohol (66% vs. 57%), even though four times as many Americans die from alcohol related causes than from opioids.

Nearly 19,000 Americans died from prescription opioids in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institutes of Health estimates 88,000 people die annually from alcohol related causes.

Alcohol misuse is also estimated by NIH to cost the U.S. economy nearly $250 billion annually, while the “economic burden” of opioid abuse was estimated by the DEA at $53 billion in 2011.   

The Kaiser Foundation poll comes in the middle of an election season, as the White House and Congress consider various funding measures to address the so-called epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction.

The survey found that a large majority of Americans believe federal and state governments, doctors, and individuals who use prescription opioids are not doing enough to fight opioid addiction. Only about a third said police officers weren’t doing enough to enforce drug laws, a sign that many Americans don’t consider opioid abuse just a law enforcement issue.

Asked which policy efforts would be very or somewhat effective in reducing opioid abuse, over eight in ten said doctors and medical students should have better training in pain management and that there should be increased access to addiction treatment programs.  Less than half said putting warning labels on prescription opioids explaining the risk of addiction would be effective. Respondents were not asked if access to opioid pain medication should be reduced.

Policies Rated Very or Somewhat Effective in Fighting Opioid Abuse

  • 88% Increase pain management training
  • 86% Increase access to addiction treatment
  • 84% Public education and awareness programs
  • 83% Increase research about pain and pain management
  • 82% Monitor doctors’ prescribing habits
  • 63% Encourage disposal of extra pain meds
  • 60% Reduce stigma of opioid addiction
  • 48% Put addiction warning labels on opioid bottles

Putting the issue in perspective, while most Americans consider painkiller abuse a serious problem, the issue ranks well behind several other health problems such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Health Problems Considered Extremely or Very Serious

  • 86% Cancer
  • 78% Diabetes
  • 74% Lack of access to mental healthcare
  • 73% Obesity
  • 72% Heart disease
  • 71% Contaminated drinking water
  • 70% Heroin abuse
  • 66% Painkiller abuse
  • 61% Lack of access to healthcare
  • 57% Environmental contamination
  • 57% Alcohol abuse
  • 54% Lack of access to affordable food

The Kaiser Foundation survey was conducted in mid-April in a random telephone sample of 1,201 American adults. The poll is estimated to have a sampling error of 3 percent.

To see the complete results of the Kaiser poll, click here.