U.S. lawmakers and research advocates recently attended a Capitol Hill briefing titled “Pain Research: On the Verge of a Breakthrough,” featuring Allan Basbaum, professor at University of California, San Francisco.
Pain is a topic of high interest on Capitol Hill, as about 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and an increasing number of Americans are addicted to opioids, which are often prescribed to treat pain. Researchers and politicians alike are interested in finding other ways to treat chronic pain to help alleviate issues related to opioid use.
Basbaum emphasized that it is important for scientists, especially pain researchers, to come to Capitol Hill and discuss their work with lawmakers because federal funding is the major source for this research. And while the societal cost of chronic pain, including medical costs and lost productivity, was estimated at about $650 billion in 2012 in the U.S., only $250 million in NIH funding went toward related research, Basbaum said.
“There are some small pain research foundations, but there is nothing equivalent to the American Heart [Association] or American Cancer Society. And the reason is, in general, you don’t die of pain, but unfortunately you may die in pain,” Basbaum said.
Basbaum stated that pain research is “on the verge of a breakthrough” as the field works toward achieving the ability to target specific subtypes of pain channels and pathways, and to identify molecules and substances related to certain types of pain, which will allow for more direct treatment options and a reduction of broad side effects.
The event concluded with remarks from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who stressed the increasing urgency and direness of the opioid crisis in the country. Speier said that Basbaum’s presentation should give people a “great deal of hope” and that she leaves with “a “great deal of commitment to continuing the research that will transform the lives of so many.
The event was presented by the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus (CBRC), a bipartisan caucus that seeks to support congressional committees and members of Congress with jurisdiction over NIH, NSF, science research, and health issues.