The Search for Alternative Pain Therapies

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report states that nearly 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain at a cost of $635 billion per year. Yet studies point out that while opioid painkillers are the most popular treatment for chronic pain, they may also be the least effective. The IOM report notes a need for a cultural transformation to help people find effective pain management alternatives to opioids. There is a dramatic need for evidence-based, non-pharmaceutical therapies to help control pain, specifically to reduce the high physical, mental and financial cost of those who suffer with chronic pain.

Chronic pain disproportionately affects those who have served or are serving in the military. A June 2014 report in JAMA Internal Medicine showed an alarmingly high rate of chronic pain, 44 percent, among members of the U.S. military after combat deployment, compared to 26 percent in the general population. Yet, there are solutions, primarily in the area of complementary and alternative medicine. These pain management techniques include acupuncture and other non-pharmaceutical methods of pain relief.

Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., Director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) explains:

“Pain is the most common reason Americans turn to complementary and integrative health practices. The need for nondrug treatment options is a significant and urgent public health imperative. We believe this research will provide much-needed information that will help our military and their family members, and ultimately anyone suffering from chronic pain and related conditions.”

Thirteen new research projects totaling approximately $21.7 million over 5 years will explore nondrug approaches to managing pain and related health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse, and sleep issues. The studies will focus on addressing pain and related conditions in US military personnel and veterans using a variety of treatments and combinations to include cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals understand thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors), self-hypnosis, and mindfulness relapse prevention training. Several studies will also focus on the practicality and cost effectiveness of alternative treatments. Results may help show conclusiveevidence to support alternative and holistic approaches to comprehensive healthcare.

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