In a country plagued by the opioid crisis, the race is on to find novel solutions for managing pain. One in five Americans experience some sort of chronic pain.
Opioids are powerful painkillers prescribed by a doctor. Because they are highly addictive, prescription opioids have led to a nationwide epidemic killing 128 people each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To avoid the potential dangers of opioids prescribed for pain management, many doctors are turning to new medication called “neuromodulators,” some of which are also used to treat depression. These medications, which include gabapentin, pregabalin and duloxetine, affect the way the nervous system perceives pain rather than targeting pain directly.
Though effective for some, they’re not the right treatment for everyone.
“What happens with not just medications but with almost all of our treatments for pain [is that] about 30 to 40% of people improve with any one treatment,” said Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, a professor and vice chair at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
While a growing number of scientists are studying alternatives to opioids, finding a single pill that alleviates all pain is unlikely. Instead, researchers and doctors believe that medicine is on the cusp of a revolution in the way providers treat pain. They predict that pain management will shift toward customizing treatment for each individual patient rather than prescribing one type of drug as a cure-all.
Wasan said he is optimistic about the future, with several new pain treatments in the pipeline which could broaden options for the one in five Americans experiencing chronic pain.