Pain is perhaps the most universal medical symptom. More conditions are identified by pain than by perhaps any other factor, and management of pain is typically more important to patients than any other relief strategy.
We often assume that the arsenal of weapons against pain is already complete, that there are no new opportunities on the horizon. However, that assumption is inaccurate.
Pain relief is certainly achievable with the complement of drugs currently available, but not every case of pain is ideally managed with those drugs. The fact is that many drugs are not perfect, but they are the best available, so we proceed with them. As a result, business and government continue the pursuit of ever-better pain medications, addressing several problems with existing drugs.
Reducing Side Effects
There is no such thing as a drug with no side effects. There are some that have minimal impact and some that don’t impact every patient, but it takes only a glance at the label to know that the potential is there.
Research is trying to overcome this and help to build drugs that don’t carry a risk of damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, or other organs. Because so many drugs are taken over a long period of time, this research can take years, requiring a series of researchers and an effective means of biobanking that allows samples to be stored and tracked for many years. The complexity of that process alone sheds light on why these drugs take so long to develop.
Eliminating Dependence Issues
The news is full of stories about the impact of opioid addiction on cities and families all over the country. These drugs are very effective as painkillers, but they carry addictive properties that make it very easy for abuse to enter the picture, even when the user has no such intent starting out.
The chemistry of these drugs is complex, and it is very difficult to eliminate the addictive characteristics without simultaneously reducing the efficacy of pain management. Yet that goal remains a high priority, with extensive research resources committed to the effort. In time, such drugs could become a reality, but the work must proceed cautiously in order to avoid the release of drugs that are less addictive but carry other problematic side effects.
While the effort to increase insurance availability is continuing, it struggles with the high cost of the drugs and treatments being provided. The cost is high, whether it’s an uninsured individual paying out of pocket or a private insurer covering them through the individual’s plan.
Existing drugs were developed over many years of research, and once they could be produced, the attention of the labs shifted more toward the next project. However, there is also a need to revisit these drugs and find ways to get them into the pharmacy at a lower cost. Production of generics is one way, of course, but it takes many years. The ideal development would be for the original brand-name product to come available at a lower cost, and research is working toward that as well.
No drug is perfect. Everyone carries some kind of baggage in terms of side effects, addictive qualities, or high cost. There are also many other drugs that don’t perform at the high level needed for their primary mission of pain control.
As these issues remain at the forefront of the national health situation, research will continue to track down opportunities to address them and to simultaneously improve the health of the general public.