The Wicked Problem of Chronic Pain

Yesterday, 10.10.10 had the distinct pleasure of publicly presenting this year’s 10 wicked problems in health. Everyone at 10.10.10 is excited to see what the 10 CEOs can come up with over these next 10 days as a result of their work with our Ninjas, Validators and Volunteers on marketable solutions to these 10 wicked problems. While the CEOs and our team are busy delving deep into these problems, we’re going to highlight one of these wicked problems each day starting today through June 30. These problems are vast and multi-faceted and the more people who get involved, the better chance we have at making any real ground toward solutions. We would like to keep the conversation going in the community during the event and beyond. Please follow and comment on your insight by using the provided hashtags. (#chronicpain #opioidepidemic #101010health)

Katie Richardson, M.D., Director of Physician Experience, CPMG/Kaiser, speaks at the 10.10.10 Big Reveal event as the Problem Advocate for the wicked problem of chronic pain. (Jacqueline Endsley Photography)

What do we mean by Chronic Pain?

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, chronic pain is most commonly described as pain persisting more than 3 months. It can be constant or intermittent, but it certainly interferes with one’s quality of life when it is happening. This can include pain caused by a traumatic injury or injuries incurred over a long period of time.  Commonly thought of forms of chronic pain include back pain or knee pain, but chronic pain includes a much broader assortment of pains, including tension headaches, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and phantom limb pain.

How does it affect society? 

An estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, including approximately 100 million sufferers in the US alone. Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer combined.  And while chronic pain can be devastating for those who suffer from it, it also has substantial ramifications for the economy.  In the US alone, estimates of incremental health care costs related to chronic pain range as high as $329 billion per year.  In addition to the cost of treatment, chronic pain is also estimated to reduce workplace productivity an average of 4.6 hours per week amongst those afflicted.  The estimated impact of lost productivity alone is valued at approximately $368 billion a year.

In addition to the scope of the problem and the financial burden on society, there is also the problem with addiction. Opioid pain medications are one of the most popular forms of intervention to help patients handle pain. Over the past 15 years we have seen the prescriptions for opioids explode in the US as well as the rate of medication related deaths. Each day, misuse of opioid prescriptions results in approximately 1,000 emergency room visits, straining overburdened hospitals. According to the CDC, in 2014, more Americans died of opioid overdoses than motor vehicle collisions. 

Why is this a wicked problem?

Chronic pain is often difficult to treat, and in a substantial number of cases, the underlying cause can even be unknown.  As such, at this time, prescribing opioids is often a doctor’s first, and possibly only, method of treatment.  Unfortunately, while opioids may help with a patient’s chronic pain issues, it also potentially leads to many others. Additionally, for chronic pain patients who already have addiction issues with other substances, opioid prescriptions will only compound their current problem.

What’s going on in the field?

Complimentary and alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and massage, cost chronic pain sufferers over $30 billion a year.  New treatments, including those incorporating virtual reality and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are being tested for their effectiveness but so far nothing has come close to the effectiveness of prescription opiates.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Chronic pain is a problem that affects more than one in five people worldwide and we are eager to see and explore new ways of treating this pervasive issue.  Join us in considering how we can make life better for 1.5 billion people around the world.  Share your thoughts, articles of interest or interesting projects with us by tweeting them with #chronicpain #opioidepidemic #101010health 

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