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Why Chronic Pain is So Prevalent – and So Difficult to Treat

August 8, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Pain Relief

The number of Americans living with conditions that give them chronic pain has increased substantially in the last two decades. We take a look at some factors that might explain this sudden shift. In 1997, there were 120.2 million Americans suffering from one or more painful conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). By 2014, that number had soared up to 178 million people. This sharp uptick is the main driver behind the nation’s opioid crisis, which is quickly becoming one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But though treatment for the problem has become a point of political contention, discussion over chronic pain itself rarely happens in the public eye.  Before we can tackle the question of why opioid prescriptions have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, we should ask why so many people are now dealing with chronic pain, a good 41 percent of the US population as of 2014. The answer will help to explain why treating chronic pain has become such a difficult and controversial issue, and why so many of the millions of people suffering from chronic pain seek out alternative treatments.

The Many Faces of Chronic Pain

A major contributor to the spike in reported instances of chronic pain is the rising median age of the US population. Baby Boomers are still the largest generation in the country, and as they’ve grown older over the last twenty years, they’ve begun to experience many of the health conditions commonly associated with advanced age. Now entering their 70s, Baby Boomers are only more likely to report chronic pain as they receive diagnoses of arthritis, spinal injury, and cancer. Obesity is also more common among older people (and has been growing nationally for some time) and tends to lead to chronic back and joint pain. Improving treatment for conditions like cancer are also leading to more reported instances of chronic pain. As medications and therapy methods become more advanced, mortality rates decrease. However, this also means that more people report experiencing chronic pain, either as a symptom of the condition they have or as a side effect associated with treatment.  Chronic pain following major surgery is a fairly common occurrence, with 10-30 percent of those who undergo such procedures reporting persistent sensations of pain and discomfort in the months and years afterward. All these issues are only expected to compound as the population gets older and as medical procedures become more advanced, easier to access, and more sorely needed.

Why Treatment for Chronic Pain is Difficult

Though the experience of pain differs, nearly everyone wants relief; opioid prescriptions rose at an incredible rate between 1999 and 2010 partially because they seemed to be effective in responding to a diverse range of different painful conditions. In fact, few other medications share opioids’ ability to treat many kinds of pain effectively.  However, pain management with opioids come with several downsides. The side effects of opioid medications – including nausea, vomiting, constipation, lethargy, and dizziness – may be too much for some people to bear on a daily basis. Side effects like slowed reaction time may also prevent people from working or driving.  What’s more, long-term opioid use is strongly correlated with addiction and dependence. The opioid addiction crisis is especially damaging in Ohio, where more people suffer from chronic pain than from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. The medical community is coming to terms with just how damaging reliance on opioids has been for the nation’s health, and is actively looking for alternatives to these medications.  Marijuana’s apparent effectiveness in treating pain resulting from all manner of conditions is a huge part of what drove efforts to legalize it for medical use in the state of Ohio. It’s therefore no surprise that chronic and severe pain is now the number one reason cited by those signing up for Ohio’s medical marijuana program, with as many as 10,000 Ohioans with these symptoms registering. 

Medical Marijuana for Your Pain

It makes sense that so many people dealing with pain are curious about medical marijuana — its anti-inflammatory properties combined with its status as a non-addictive drug make it a promising alternative to opioid medications. If you’re dealing with chronic pain and are interested in seeking medical marijuana as a potential treatment, schedule a consultation with the Lakewood Medical Clinic today. Our expert practitioners will help determine whether this treatment could provide relief.