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Chronic pain affects millions of Americans every day. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, and of those people, 19.6 million people have pain to the severity of that their everyday life is impacted. In order to treat this pain, an estimated $560 billion has been spent on medical care and healthcare programs in 2018. Yet without sufficient or appropriate alternatives to treating chronic pain patients, this economic toll will only increase with time.
In November of 2019, Stanford University is undergoing a series of experiments to develop and test innovative tools to address chronic pain. With collaborative work from psychiatrists, physical therapists, nutritionists, and physicians, they are tackling chronic pain from a thoroughly interdisciplinary vantage point.
One of the therapies they are exploring is transcranial magnetic stimulation, or so called “brain zapping”, where a coil is placed at the top of the head, generating a magnetic field that can activate different brain centers that can turn on or off systems that are associated with pain. In this case, patients will not be able to feel pain after this treatment, with current patients demonstrating promising results.
Another experiment involves a novel application of medicine: repurposing naltrexone, originally used to treat drug and alcohol addiction. According to Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the division of pain medicine and director of neuroscience and the pain lab at Stanford University, lower doses of naltrexone, such as one tenth, has demonstrated a completely different reaction in patients. It blocks nerve inflammation, and is seen to work effectively with fibromyalgia, which predominantly affects women in their 30’s to 50’s.
Although most of these therapies are still in their elementary stages, many of these scientists have recognized that they are of utmost importance. They are battling a national epidemic, stemming from the initial overpromotion of opioids and the rippling effects of it on poorer neighborhoods to decrease the economic toll.