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Research shows that serious, chronic pain is the primary reason most Americans seek medical treatment, but intense public and political scrutiny of pain treatments, particularly prescription narcotics, has forced many patients to live with crippling pain unnecessarily. Many patients believe pain, as a side effect of injury or disease, must be tolerated rather than controlled with medications, while some doctors and nurses feel they must err on the side of under-prescribing powerful narcotics for fear of legal prosecution. The unfortunate losers in this scenario are patients who must live every day in serious pain.
For two decades, a handful of physicians have been advocating for reforms in the treatment of pain, but their efforts have been stymied by both medical and legal constraints. In 2004, Burness Communications recognized that the group of experts speaking out about the under-treatment of pain was not being heard. We suggested to The Mayday Fund, a foundation dedicated to the reduction of human suffering, that it could help by supporting a sustained effort to turn pain researchers and clinicians into effective advocates for patients in pain.
Today, the Mayday Pain & Society Fellowship program has produced 30 new spokespeople, who are spreading the message about effective pain management to the news media, to Congress and the NIH, to patients, and to other physicians.
Patrick Coyne, RN, of the Medical College of Virginia, is one example. After participating in the advocacy training, which was designed and conducted by Burness, Coyne was able to secure funding from the Virginia Legislature for a new curriculum on pain for health professionals statewide. Armed with a policy strategy and powerful messages, Coyne and a few partners, including a patient who could tell a personal story about living every day in pain, started knocking on doors in the state capital. The pressure paid off, and Virginia approved a $150,000 appropriation that was increased the following year.
As Mayday Fund Executive Director Christina Spellman says, “The Fellowship, while designed to impart media and policy communications skills, has morphed into a social network that is able to respond quickly to reporters and policymakers, and also mobilize to help people in pain who are suffering needlessly.”
And the success of the Mayday Fellowship, along with our work training researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, grantees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and scientists in Sub-Saharan Africa, led the company to launch the Burness Health & Science Advocacy Institute. Our goal: to transform researchers and health experts into advocates for social change.