The surgeon general released a landmark report about drug addiction and abuse on November 17 which prompted both praise and critique from pain specialists across the nation, including a world-renowned pain researcher with Duke Anesthesiology, Dr. Bill Maixner.
According to an article by Duke Today and an interview posted on YouTube by Duke Health, he commends the report for outlining ways to deal with an overt problem around addiction and substance abuse, and providing full recognition that this is a disease rather than a character flaw. But he adds that it missed an opportunity to call for research and development of additional medical alternatives to opiates for pain management.
The report serves as a call to action and tackles what Dr. Maixner calls “the hidden epidemic” of chronic pain in America which affects more than 100 million adults and costs society more than $635 billion each year. “The cost of treating chronic pain is greater than the combined costs of diabetes, cancer and heart disease,” notes Dr. Maixner. “Yet we spend just four cents per pain patient annually on research, while pain patients consume about 15 percent of health care costs annually. That’s a big imbalance.”
Dr. Maixner was also featured in an NBC News article about the report, which he believes could have gone even further. He says, “There’s very little language regarding the need for discovery of new treatments, discovery of new therapies for chronic pain — which is another epidemic. One of the reasons we have this hidden epidemic in chronic pain is the fact that we don’t have good therapies, and many physicians rely on the use of opioids.” He adds, “We find, unfortunately, that a large number of these individuals are treated by opioids by well-intended individuals who have very little option but opioids to go to.”
Following the release of the surgeon general’s report, MedPage Today formed a panel of experts in addiction, pain and emergency medicine (including Dr. Maixner) to begin a national dialogue about the crisis of addiction. Click here to watch the panel discussion.
As highlighted earlier this year in the cover story of Duke Anesthesiology’s annual magazine, BluePrint, Dr. Maixner says one-tenth of chronic pain patients are suffering from opioid addiction and abuse due to excessive exposure to opioids which are often misappropriated. He believes the only way to deal with the abuse and addiction is to discover new medications and innovative pain therapies which require research.
Dr. Maixner is the director of Duke Anesthesiology’s Center for Translational Pain Medicine. This center further expands the department’s existing clinical and research program in innovative pain therapies by bringing together, under one umbrella, leading basic scientists, clinicians and clinical researchers who have a common core mission of unraveling the causes of painful conditions to better improve patient care. He also played a key role in the opening of a first-of-its-kind pain practice, Duke Innovative Pain Therapies, located in Raleigh.