Under the Hood

Mental Health Support, Drugs Prescribed For Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is an umbrella term used to describe pain from arthritis, headaches, lower back, post surgical pain, cancer pain and neurogenic pain, among others. The pain is considered chronic if it lasts beyond the estimated recovery period, for months and years together. 

Approximately more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, as per data revealed by the American Academy of Pain Medicine. In the year 2016, about 20.4 percent of American adults were diagnosed with chronic pain. Of the 20.4 percent of American adults, 8 percent of adults experienced severe pain. 

It is one of the leading causes of disability and loss of productivity, burning a huge hole in the pockets of sufferers since chronic pain adds significantly to their health care costs. A combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatment is prescribed for pain management. Patients are either given over-the-counter pain relievers or opioid pain relievers such as morphine, codeine and hydrocodone, with the being more common. This leads to dependence and addiction to opioids, which provide immediate relief but cause other side effects in the long term. 

“Long-term pain is distressing and disabling, it is dreadful to live with, but medical treatments do not work to treat it,” Cathy Stannard, clinical lead for guidelines on chronic pain at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the U.K., said. 

According to Stannard, it is time to think of a new approach to addressing chronic pain and not consider medication since the only source of relief. While patients are articulating pain, it is definitely a cry for help but the underlying reasons for their distress could be far worse, however, it remains unacknowledged. 

Stannard told The Guardian about improving factors that influence mental health while simultaneously addressing chronic pain. “Maybe we can’t change the pain, but we can do various things like we can improve mobility, we can improve sleep, we can improve social isolation, we can provide housing support, we can provide financial advice,” Stannard said. 

Intense pain has been linked to grief in many people’s experience, especially regarding a traumatic childhood. Initially, researchers believed that pain stemmed from psychological distress and not biological reasons. However, scientists later discovered that pain, anxiety and depression shared common biological mechanisms. 

Focusing solely on the pain can take away the psychological trauma at play. Hence, accurately diagnosing both problems is crucial to recovery, however, treatment will still be a challenge. 

Prescription opioids In 2014, about 18,893 overdose deaths in the U.S. were related to prescription pain relievers. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/John Moore