Presenters at UPLiFT Work Together to Put Patients First

Dr. Beth Darnall is an associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine. She has a background in clinical psychology and has been working with individuals with chronic pain for nearly twenty years. Her work focuses on developing and investigating scalable treatments and methods to address persistent disparities seen in pain.

Andrea Anderson has a legal background in medical malpractice and personal injury law. She is a national advocate for clinicians and patients and is someone who lives with pain herself. Ms. Anderson founded the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, a patient advocacy organization, and served as the executive director for three years. Following this position, she began to dive into policy-oriented work.

In recent years, calls to approach pain as a “whole person” issue by assessing and treating people according to their needs have increased. Dr. Darnall focuses on helping people understand information and skills that can be used to control pain daily. However, few options exist that are feasible for patients.

“Historically,” Dr. Darnall says, “patients have had quite poor access to the pain care that’s needed at the individual level.”

At the UPLiFT Conference, she will discuss some of her work that she hopes will make some of this information more broadly accessible.

Concerning poor access to pain care, Andrea Anderson talks about the widespread reduction of opioid prescriptions. She says it is clear that a “one size fits all” opioid prescription isn’t working. All over the United States, places are closing and leaving areas without pain care. Even if a person does have a prescription and desperately needs it, medication is not always available due to supply issues. Ms. Anderson is working hard to address these issues in multiple ways.

“Reduction has been the dominant message to the public because of the narrative that all opioids are bad all the time. But these are lifesaving and life-giving medications for many people.”

A secondary crisis is occurring among patients who have prescriptions for treating chronic pain. By forcing prescription tapering, these patients’ health and lives are put at risk. This form of broad scale health intervention affected millions of patients without evidence that it would help them. The way Ms. Anderson puts it, the policy got ahead of the evidence in methods for implementing reduction and safe prescribing.

Dr. Darnall is studying this issue as part of the Empower study, a voluntary, patient-centered opioid reduction study.

“[The Empower Study is] collecting evidence on voluntary methods to ideally put forward a position in the data for how to reduce opioids in a way that ensures patient safety, well-being and in the end, their pain control.”

In some ways, the point, which is to help people living with pain, has been lost. Marginalizing people who take prescription opioids has increased risks for the most vulnerable patients. These unintentional yet unconscionable consequences result from widespread policies and clinical implementations that do not consider patient health. Working together, Dr. Darnall and Ms. Anderson intend to ensure patients can receive medications they need and can trust that their health will be put first.