Debilitating chronic pain threatens quality of life for nearly 1 million Utahns

Oct 2 2013 - 3:43pm

Chronic pain is a silent epidemic that threatens not only the health and livelihood of nearly one million Utah residents, but also the continued economic vitality of the state. Utah policymakers should take action now to ensure that Utah patients in pain do not needlessly suffer and that all patients living with painful conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, lupus, MS and countless others have timely access to affordable and effective care.

Like many living with chronic pain, I endured my condition for sixteen months before I was properly diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM) and found appropriate treatments. FM is a chronic condition that is characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness lasting three months or longer. Also like many others, I was faced with skepticism from some who suggested that the excruciating pain I was feeling was all in my head.

Although chronic pain is often characterized as an "invisible" illness, for those living with the pain it is anything but - the pain is an omnipresent reminder of your condition and an obstacle to be confronted and overcome daily. After my diagnosis, I was in so much pain I had difficulty getting out of bed. I was unable to sleep. I suffered regular migraines. I considered giving up.

I soon learned there were others like me. In 2010, I founded the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA) in Logan to offer national education and support to others living with chronic pain. NFMCPA organization advocates for public awareness of chronic pain issues in order to gain a better understanding of the extent, consequences and causes of the disease.

More than 100 million adults in the United States are affected by pain every year, which is more than the number of Americans affected by cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. Chronic pain directly leads to increased health care costs, diminished workforce productivity and a significant decrease in quality of life for those battling a broad range of debilitating conditions. Pain costs this country $635 billion every year in treatment expenses and lost productivity, and is one of the hidden drivers of rising costs for Utah's Medicaid system.

Studies show that significant cost savings - for example, a reduction in workers compensation costs and lost tax revenues, as well as in expenditures due to the misuse or abuse of opioids - could be achieved through better treatment of chronic pain.

Unfortunately, Utah patients living with chronic pain must not only confront their own painful conditions, but also frequent misdiagnosis and significant barriers erected by health insurers to obstruct access to care. In the name of profit, some insurers have implemented a host of policies aimed at denying or delaying care, and the impact of the policies is always the same - Utah pain patients needlessly suffer.

I urge all Utah legislators and policymakers to pursue comprehensive solutions and better access to effective care for people suffering with conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic lower back pain and diabetic neuropathy. Education, awareness, and access to treatments can help prevent pain the condition from becoming pain the disease, and help prevent nearly one million Utah residents from unnecessarily suffering.

Jan Chambers is President and Founder of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association headquartered in Utah.

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