'Civil war' in medical community on how to treat chronic pain leaves some patients terrified 'beyond description'

The opioid epidemic that is sweeping the nation claimed a record 27,000 lives in 2014, according to the CDC. Since then, physicians and regulators have imposed significant restrictions on access to prescription opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

Although the move is intended to save lives and prevent addiction, patients suffering from severe chronic pain who rely on the drugs to function normally fear they might lose access to their medications, according to STAT.

One patient told STAT she lives in "constant fear," while another said his terror is "beyond description."

How to best address the opioid crisis has been a source of conflict in the medical community, as some physicians believe prescriptions should be scaled back, while others say the cost of chronic pain is too high.

"There's a civil war in the pain community," Daniel B. Carr, MD, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, told STAT. "One group believes the primary goal of pain treatment is curtailing opioid prescribing. The other group looks at the disability, the human suffering, the expense of chronic pain."

The battle in the medical community over painkillers intensified in late 2015 when the New England Journal of Medicine published commentary in which two physicians argued that chronic pain patients should focus on addressing their emotional reactions to pain instead of reducing the intensity of it, according to the report. The authors, Jane C. Ballantyne, MD, the president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, and Mark D. Sullivan, MD, argued patients should seek "coping and acceptance strategies that primarily reduce the suffering associated with pain and only secondarily reduce pain intensity," reports STAT. Some readers accused the authors of lacking compassion for those in pain, while others applauded them for putting forth a novel approach to addiction prevention.

The heated responses to the piece illuminated a fundamental problem in the debate over opioid prescriptions, according to STAT: both sides lack evidence on the benefits or consequences of long-term use of painkillers aside from addiction because few exist.

Read the full report here.

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