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Are Painkillers a Bigger Problem Than Pain?

A poll finds most Americans are more concerned with painkiller abuse than chronic pain.

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By Chrisanne Grise

04/10/13

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Most Americans see abuse of pain medication as a much larger problem than chronic pain, according to a new opinion poll. Chronic pain affects about 100 million US adults, but the Research!America poll found that only 18% of respondents think chronic pain is a major health problem—even though 63% know someone who has “experienced pain so severe that they sought prescription medicines to treat it.” Of those surveyed, 82% said they believe taking prescription medications for long-term chronic pain can result in addiction, and 50% described prescription drug abuse as a "major health problem." In addition, 85% said they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that prescription pain medication can be abused or misused, while 40% believe that this abuse is a serious problem in their community. An estimated 1.9 million people are addicted to prescription pain medications, according to the National Institutes of Health; and the number of accidental overdose deaths from pain meds has quadrupled since 1999. But as the US cracks down on its prescription drug abuse epidemic, will attention and resources be diverted from the medical problem of chronic pain? "We need to better understand addiction," says Mary Woolley, Research!America's president and CEO. "We shouldn't shy away from research on new pain treatments based on fears of abuse. The suffering is simply too great. More robust investment in research and the engagement and support of policy makers and health care providers are essential to developing effective strategies to reduce the prevalence of addiction."

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