Woman Testifies About Chronic Pain, Opioids From Cot

By Kelly Burch 02/15/19

"We must invest in the discovery of new, effective, and safer options for people living with pain,” Cindy Steinberg said in prepared remarks.

woman on cot testifying about chronic pain in front of Congress
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It’s heartbreaking to see the faces of the opioid epidemic—young lives cut short by drug overdoses. Yet, this week another tragic but often overlooked face of the epidemic was on display when a woman testified before Congress from a cot, detailing her life with chronic pain. 

Cindy Steinberg, national director of policy and advocacy for U.S. Pain Foundation spoke before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during a hearing entitled “Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.”

Steinberg’s chronic pain began 18 years ago when filing cabinets and cubical walls fell on her at work. Today, she isn’t able to sit or stand for long periods without experiencing muscle spasms and pain.

She told the committee that her life is like “being a prisoner in your own body and being tortured,” according to the National Pain Report

Steinberg argued that substance abuse and access to pain management medications for those who need them are two entirely separate issues. She said that rising overdoses has highlighted an existing problem, “underscor[ing] our failure to provide adequate, safe, accessible treatment options for pain relief.”

“We can and must restore balance to opioid prescribing,” Steinberg said. 

According to NBC News, Steinberg said in her prepared remarks, “In the near term, we can and must restore balance to opioid prescribing with depoliticized, rational and cleareyed recognition of the risks and benefits of these medications. In the long term, we must invest in the discovery of new, effective, and safer options for people living with pain.”

Others who advocate for pain patients, including Richard “Red” Lawhern, director of research for the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, were happy to see Steinberg’s story in the spotlight.

“Steinberg directly challenged the lack of resident expertise on pain management at CDC, suggesting that Congress direct the much better equipped NIH to rewrite the guidelines based on recommendations of the HHS (Department of Health & Human Services) Task Force. This is a recommendation I support,” Lawhern said. 

Committee Chair Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee seemed to empathize with Steinberg’s concerns, saying the “massive effort in reducing the supply of opioids has had the unintended consequence of hurting people who need them.”

This week, research emerged showing that current changes in access to prescription opioids are unlikely to reduce the number of opioid overdoses. The research shows that projected annual opioid overdose deaths will reach 82,000 by 2025

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.