UPLiFT Panel Features National Pain Advocacy Center (NPAC) Founder and President

Kate Nicholson, president of the National Pain Advocacy Center and civil rights attorney, will be presenting at the UPLiFT Conference on November 9th, 2021. The National Pain Advocacy Center (NPAC) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for people living with pain, healthcare and human rights. NPAC officially launched in September of 2019.

Nicholson spent most of her career as a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. She was also working as a disability rights lawyer when her own experience with pain and disability began. Near the start of her career, Nicholson developed severe chronic pain that limited her ability to walk for years. About fifteen years in, her mobility returned, but the pain was still there.

“One of the things I saw during my career was that in these public health crises, we end up sometimes stigmatizing the people we most want to help. And that ends up circling back and depriving them of healthcare. People with chronic pain who require medical use of opioids are facing extraordinary barriers in getting healthcare at all.”

Nicholson states that 50% of primary care providers in the U.S. won’t take on a new patient who requires opioids, and 81% are reluctant to. In 2017, Nicholson gave a TED Talk on this growing problem. She began involvement with several different initiatives, one of which took place in Oregon. There was a plan to take everyone on Medicaid off opioids without any real safety plan. Nicholson met with the CDC to raise alarm about the situation.

Additionally, she met with many providers, scientists, and clinicians who were also concerned. They worked and realized that to truly make a change, an organization was needed that advocated for patient protection as well as broader policy agenda on pain. This idea came to be the National Pain Advocacy Center.

“The thing that makes us [NPAC] unique is that we won’t take pharmaceutical or industry funding. I think it’s very hard to have integrity in discussing the issue of opioids and protecting patients from harm or from overreach and take industry funding. So that is a pledge that we made.”

The National Pain Advocacy Center was founded by and for people living with pain. Their extensive community leadership council reflects the U.S. population. It includes members from all backgrounds and regions living with various conditions, from sickle cell disease to dystonia to opioid use disorder.

“We don’t see the pain and addiction issue in a binary way. These are complex issues and the solutions we’ve had in the past obviously have not worked well. There are also lots of studies about racial and gender disparities in pain so that’s another huge part of who we are. We do have a healthcare and civil rights focus, but it’s necessary that everyone has a seat at the table, so we are sure that we’re looking at these issues from all perspectives.”