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April 3, 2019

Engaging Mental Health Professionals in Addressing Pain

Author Affiliations
  • 1Pain Research, Informatics, Multimorbidities, and Education Center, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, West Haven
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(6):565-566. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0254

Pain is a problem that is owned by everyone and hence no one. Consistent with this observation, the Institute of Medicine’s seminal 2011 report “Relieving Pain in America: a Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research” labeled pain a substantial public health concern, calling for cultural transformation in how pain is conceptualized and managed.1 The report documented the high prevalence of chronic pain and an associated annual economic burden in the United States of more than $500 billion in costs of care and lost productivity. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 20% of Americans report chronic pain, and 8% report “high-impact chronic pain,” which is defined as pain that affects daily living and work activities.2 Significant disparities in pain and pain treatment, gaps in the education of health care professionals and the public about pain and pain treatment, and a problematic service delivery and payment system that fails to support evidence-based pain care have also been cited. In 2016, the US Department of Health and Human Services published a comprehensive national pain strategy3 that called on all health care professionals, including mental health professionals, scientists, and their respective organizations, to share in addressing these gaps.3 Given how commonly patients in mental health care report experiencing pain, addressing chronic pain in specialty mental health and substance use disorder treatment settings can provide an overlooked but potentially fruitful pathway to care.

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