Mail Call: Fresh Hope for Those Who Battle Pain

Chronic-pain sufferers and health professionals were heartened by our cover story on the search for new strategies to fight pain, especially for those returning from the battlefield. One chronic sufferer referred to pain as the "quiet killer of body and soul" and wrote: "The advancements being made to help the soldiers wounded in the line of duty are well deserved, and I can only hope they will reach the talented physicians working tirelessly to help those of us who suffer from crippling disease." A disabled RN suffering from fibromyalgia and spinal disease also hoped for carryover. "Maybe the war on pain fought by these soldiers will help people like me." Others suggested relief from chronic pain ranging from various opioids to medical marijuana. But with new research comes the hope for alleviating dependency. One said, "The ultimate promise of new research on the brain is pain relief without narcotic drug dependence."

As one of millions in this country suffering from chronic pain, I congratulate you on "The Changing Science of Pain," by Mary Carmichael (June 4). Whether it's our brave men and women serving our country, professional and amateur athletes or the average citizen, millions suffer physically and mentally through the "invisible disabilities" of constant pain while appearing to be in fine health. Then there is the resulting cost associated with lost marriages and longtime friendships, and the isolation it leads to, which demoralizes one's psyche and may result in a spiraling depression in many people. Having endured seven intestinal surgeries over the past 25 years, I've also had to deal with the debilitating pain of fibromyalgia for the past 13 years with no end in sight. So I have firsthand experience with chronic pain.
Jeff Ostach
Cedarburg, Wis.

I was quoted in "the changing Science of Pain" and applaud NEWSWEEK for presenting a well-rounded, insightful look at the complicated and often frustrating treatment of pain. By highlighting innovative therapies on the horizon and shedding light on the growing population of people who live with chronic pain, you give hope to millions who might otherwise suffer in silence or, worse, end their torment by ending their lives. As your article suggests, pain is a serious medical condition that requires immediate and appropriate attention. If ignored, it can lead to a legacy of disability, misery and loss. I hope this is the first of many articles about pain and how it affects all of us. Articles such as these will open doors and minds.
Andrea F. Cooper
Patient Advocate, American Pain Foundation
Phoenix, MD.

As Mary Carmichael highlights, recent research has revolutionized our understanding of how pain affects the nervous system, and this has begun to be translated into new drugs and strategies for pain management. It is also true, as noted, that most of these developments have failed to live up to their initial promise. In fact, nothing yet has emerged to supplant morphine and its analogs—known collectively as opioids—as the most valuable single treatment for the worst pain. The problem, then, is not that morphine continues to be the most important painkiller for the military (and for the rest of the world) but that, due to stigma and the small but real risks of addiction and diversion, it remains underused.
Gary M. Reisfield, M.D.
Assistant Professor and Director
Division of Palliative Medicine
University of Florida College of Medicine
Jacksonville, Fla.

A story about pain without mentioning cannabis is a disservice to millions of Americans who have not yet discovered one of the most benign ways to cope with chronic pain. As a teenager, my brother-in-law was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor that caused him severe migraine headaches. After being prescribed a host of addictive narcotic drugs to cope with the pain, all of which had dangerous side effects, a doctor recommended that he try marijuana. He is now able to function as normally as the nearly 15 million other Americans who use cannabis daily, the only serious side effect being an occasional arrest and fine for possession of his medicine. His story is typical of millions of Americans who fight their own "war on pain" in direct conflict with the government's "war on drugs." Despite the fact that voters in 12 states have voted by referendum to allow patients to use cannabis for pain, the federal government continues to insist it has the right to prosecute these sufferers and those who provide them with medicine.
Jason Detamore
Santa Monica, Calif.

Mary Carmichael's otherwise excellent article "Troubled Waters" (June 4) states that in 2004 a Coke plant in Kerala, India, was shut down because it was depleting groundwater. We have indeed closed the plant, but it possesses all the valid licenses and permits to operate. None of several independent scientific studies that have been done over the past few years have substantiated the baseless allegations made against our Kerala operations. A study carried out by the Central Ground Water Board showed that agriculture accounted for 92.6 percent of groundwater use in Kerala, and industry in total accounted for just 3.5 percent. An earlier study by the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, appointed by the Kerala High Court, concluded that normal operations of the Coca-Cola plant would not adversely affect groundwater levels. Much of the world is facing freshwater stress and scarcity, and solutions must be based on an accurate understanding of water use. At the Coca-Cola Co., we've placed a high priority on understanding our global water use and searching for operational efficiencies. We measure all the water we use globally and are committed to returning every drop to achieve balance in communities and in nature.
Jeff Seabright
Vice President, Environment and Water
The Coca-Cola Co.
Atlanta, Ga.

Our story "The Changing Science of Pain" referred to "a new form of the morphine derivative called Kadian." The new drug, called ALO-01, contains the same active ingredient as Kadian but delivers the morphine differently. It is currently in trials.