Wednesday, August 19, 2009

“Pain Awareness Month 2009” Sadly Overlooked

Talk about suffering in silence! Next month, September, is “National Pain Awareness Month” and hardly anybody seems to know. Or, care?

This annual observance starts very soon; yet, according to our extensive search there is practically no recognition of it for 2009 — no press releases, special events, not even a commemorative logo. One exception is the PAINWeek09 Conference (September 9-12, 2009 in Las Vegas), and this is an independently organized educational program for healthcare professionals. Other than that, we could find nothing drawing attention to Pain Awareness Month 2009, which is supposed to focus attention on the plights of Americans with pain, especially chronic pain.

Ironically, September also is “National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month,” and if patients with pain develop addiction to alcohol or other drugs, including to their pain-relieving medications, there are plenty of folks interested. Three different U.S. government agencies (with combined multibillion-dollar budgets) are dedicated to helping such patients: the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA/CSAT); the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); and, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA).

There is an impressive government-supported website for Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month from SAMHSA/CSAT, featuring announcements and extensive resources, a Facebook presence, and they have enlisted nearly 125 partnering organizations from the public and private sectors to help promote observances throughout the month. Check it out at RecoveryMonth.gov. Certainly, this is worthwhile; there are an estimated 15-million Americans struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, and another 4-million or so affected by other drug abuse and addiction.

Meanwhile, there are many times more people suffering with pain; 50- to 76-million Americans, depending on which survey data one accepts. What do these persons have by way of support? There are no government agencies with “Pain” in their titles. Rather than being acknowledged as a distinct disease or disorder, chronic pain is at best incorporated as one symptom of diseases/disorders served by agencies such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), or the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). While pain management may be considered important by these agencies, their missions are much broader. There also is an NIH Pain Consortium; however, its purpose is “to enhance pain research and promote collaboration among researchers across the many NIH Institutes and Centers.”

Pain Awareness Month was added to the U.S. National Health Observances Calendar by the American Pain Foundation (APF). Running late this year, APF is still planning to launch its “Conquering Pain Together” campaign [go to this website], including an online petition, toolkit, and other promotional materials to help individuals take action in their local communities. This campaign is expected to culminate in the first ever National Day of Action on Saturday, September, 26th 2009.

Meanwhile, where are the many other professional organizations and advocacy groups serving patients within the U.S. pain community? They seem to have overlooked Pain Awareness Month this year — or, maybe we’re wrong. Let us know.