America is a nation in pain, according to a new analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
How much pain, exactly?
More than 25 million American adults – about 11.2 percent – reported having pain every day for the previous three months. Researchers said the same data suggests that more than 23 million Americans felt “a lot” of pain in the preceding months, and more than 126 million – or more than half of all U.S. adults – reported experiencing some sort of pain during the same period.
The analysis, published in the Journal of Pain, is based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, an annual undertaking that asks thousands of Americans about their health- and illness-related experiences. The survey quizzed people about the frequency and intensity of pain they had experienced during the prior three months.
Among the other findings that emerged: Adults grappling with higher levels of pain, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to have worse overall health, use more health care resources and suffer from more disabilities. Older Americans, women and non-Hispanic people were more likely to report having pain, while Asians were less likely.
The new analysis also details the many ways in which Americans seek out complementary health approaches to alleviate pain, from taking dietary supplements to practicing yoga and meditation:
“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, said in an announcement of the findings. “This analysis adds valuable new scope to our understanding of pain. . . . It may help shape future research, development and targeting of effective pain interventions, including complementary health approaches.”
The prevalence of chronic pain in America also lies at the root of an ongoing epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the amount of painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled.
The CDC estimates that roughly 44 people die each day in the United States as a result of prescription opioid overdose. In 2013, drug overdoses caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes, according to the agency.
The nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic also has fueled a corresponding rise in heroin overdoses. According to the CDC, the number of deaths nationwide involving heroin increased from 3,041 in 2008 to 8,260 in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available.