It’s More Than an Opioid Crisis. It’s a Pain Crisis.

Today’s guest blog comes from Christi Shaw, Senior Vice President and President of Lilly Bio Medicines.

As America’s opioid crisis seemingly worsens each day, we can’t lose sight of one of the key contributors to this national challenge. As many as 100 million Americans live with recurrent and chronic pain  – more than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined – and they need relief from often-debilitating pain. This is more than an opioid crisis, it’s also a pain crisis. And we’re not talking about the pain part nearly enough.

Two years ago, the U.S. federal government set out to reshape the way we think about pain with the introduction of the country’s National Pain Strategy (NPS) on March 18, 2016. This multi-year plan details a coordinated approach for reducing the burden of recurrent pain (the kind of pain that goes away, but happens again and again, such as migraine) and chronic pain (defined as pain that lasts at least three months with pain level that may go up or down, but doesn’t fully go away -- the type of pain people with osteoarthritis, chronic lower back pain or cancer may experience).  

The NPS (informed by a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicines) serves as the nation’s blueprint to improve overall pain care in six key areas:

  • Population research
  • Prevention and care
  • Disparities in treatment and care
  • Service delivery and payment
  • Professional education and training
  • Public education and communication


But even with the NPS in place, the key question is are we doing enough? With the staggering impact of the pain crisis in economic, societal and emotional costs, we urgently need to act.

Consider these facts:

  • The cost of recurrent and chronic pain to families, business, health care systems and the economy is overwhelming -- up to $635 billion a year -- and growing.
  • The cost to employees can be staggering, including days of work missed (ranging from $11.6 to $12.7 billion), hours of work lost (from $95.2 to $96.5 billion), and lower wages (from $190.6 to $226.3 billion).
  • Nearly three out of four parents who responded to the recently released Migraine Impact Report said a migraine affects their ability to take care of their family.

These statistics shine a light on the public health crisis that recurrent and chronic pain presents. It requires a transformational change in the way we think about pain, along with the adoption of meaningful solutions to advance a holistic, integrated approach to managing pain in America.

We can begin by taking these initial steps:

  • Lift the stigma associated with recurrent and chronic pain. This stigma is more pronounced today since many living with chronic pain are doing so in the shadow of the opioid crisis.
  • Promote consistency in real-world clinical practice. Pain is uniquely complex. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of recurrent and chronic pain challenges researchers, doctors and health care systems alike.
  • Accelerate the search for new, alternative approaches to recurrent and chronic pain. For more than a decade, we have faced a drought of innovation in the treatment of recurrent and chronic pain, placing doctors and those they treat in the frustrating position of not having enough appropriate options.  

These steps are just a few of many that need to be taken. Collectively, it’s critical we work to address the huge unmet need that exists in the treatment of unresolved recurrent and chronic pain. This will require the combined effort of many, including researchers, health care professionals, policymakers, regulators, payers, advocates and most importantly, the people living with recurrent and chronic pain - and their loved ones - to reshape the way we view and treat pain.