Chronic pain patients need better options, not just fewer opioids.
It started as a dull ache right above the base of my spine. There was no injury, no clear cause — just pain that seemed to come out of nowhere. At the time, I thought it would go away in a few weeks. I didn’t know it would turn into a four-and-a-half-year-and-counting odyssey of experimentation to battle lower back pain that simply refused to retreat. I tried everything. I dove into twice-a-week physical therapy, daily exercises, regular walking breaks, and meditation. I bought a sit-stand desk. Nothing worked. After several months, if anything, my pain was worse.
This health problem, coincidentally, arose just as a career shift made improving US health policy my focus. After working as a consultant for hospital systems and insurance companies, I accepted a position at the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. My work focused on designing new ways to pay health care providers to reduce waste and provide higher-quality care. Through my work, I realized just how massive the chronic pain problem is in the US. Defined as any pain lasting longer than three months, chronic pain afflicts more than 50 million Americans each year and has a net economic impact of around $600 billion. Lower back pain alone is the most common cause of disability for Americans under 45.
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