U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • In June 2011, the Institute of Medicine released a landmark report on chronic pain, which demonstrated that chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and that treatment for chronic pain patients is woefully inadequate.  As a result of that report, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) was given the task of holding hearings to determine what could be done to improve chronic pain care in this country. 

    The first HELP hearing was held yesterday, February 14, and was titled “Pain in America: Exploring Challenges to Relief.”  (Click on the link to watch a video of the hearing or to download individual testimonies.)

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    It saddened me to see that only four of the 22 senators on the committee actually attended the hearing.  There were five witnesses – two medical doctors, two dentists and one patient advocate – who testified and answered questions.  (See the end of this article for lists of both committee members and witnesses.) 

    This was an important hearing for those of us who live with chronic pain.  The few senators who did attend seemed genuinely interested in what they, as lawmakers, could do to help improve chronic pain treatment. 

    Four of the five witnesses emphasized the need for more research to increase understanding of the mechanisms of pain and to develop effective new treatment options.  They pointed out the disparity in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for chronic pain.  Although 37 percent of the population lives with some form of chronic pain and 14 percent of Medicare dollars are spent on the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain, only about 1 percent of the research funded by the NIH is related to chronic pain. 

    Over the next several days, you'll see additional articles about various issues discussed in this hearing.  Chris Regal, the content producer for this site, will share his impressions of the hearing from the perspective of someone who does not live with chronic pain.  And I'll be talking about some controversial comments made by the fifth panalist as well as the shocking statistics regarding the sparcity of pain specialists in America. 

    Members of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee:

    Iowa – Senator Tom Harkin* (Chairman)
    Wyoming – Senator Michael Enzi (Ranking Minority Member)

    Arizona – Senator John McCain
    Alaska – Senator Lisa Murkowski
    Colorado – Senator Michael Bennet
    Connecticut – Senator Richard Blumenthal
    Georgia – Senator Johnny Isakson
    Illinois – Senator Mark Kirk
    Kansas – Senator Pat Roberts
    Kentucky – Senator Rand Paul
    Maryland – Senator Barbara Mikulski
    Minnesota – Senator Al Franken
    New Mexico – Senator Jeff Bingaman
    North Carolina – Senator Richard Burr
    North Carolina – Senator Kay Hagan*
    Oregon – Senator Jeff Merkley
    Pennsylvania – Senator Robert Casey, Jr.
    Rhode Island – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse*
    Tennessee – Senator Lamar Alexander
    Utah - Senator Orrin Hatch
    Vermont – Senator Bernard Sanders*
    Washington – Senator Patty Murray


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    Attended the hearing


    • Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., Principal Deputy Director, National Institutes of Health, Washington, DC.  Dr. Tabak was the former Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
    • Phillip Pizzo, M.D., Dean of the School of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. Dr. Pizzo chaired the IOM Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care and Education.
    • John Sarno, M.D., Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY
    • William Maixner, D.D.S., Ph.D., Director, Center for Neurosensory Disorders, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. 
    • Christin Veasley, Executive Director, National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), North Kingstown, RI. 


Published On: February 15, 2012