NIH and VA address pain and related conditions in U.S. military personnel, veterans and their families

Research by grant recipients, including RTI International, will focus on nondrug approaches 

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— RTI International has been awarded one of 13 research projects to explore nondrug approaches to managing pain and related health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse, and sleep issues. The effort seeks to enhance options for the management of pain and associated problems in U.S. military personnel, veterans, and their families. 

The initiative is funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Services Research and Development Division. The research projects, totaling approximately $21.7 million over five years, are located at academic institutions and VA medical centers across the United States.

Shari Miller, Ph.D., child clinical and research psychologist at RTI, will lead a pilot project, funded by NCCAM, to test the acceptability and practicality of an interactive mindfulness meditation training program—using web-based platforms and mobile apps—with active duty soldiers being treated for chronic pain. 

"Pain is the most common reason Americans turn to complementary and integrative health practices," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of NCCAM. "The need for nondrug treatment options is a significant and urgent public health imperative. We believe this research will provide much-needed information that will help our military and their family members, and ultimately anyone suffering from chronic pain and related conditions." 

A 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report states that nearly 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain at a cost of $635 billion per year and notes a need for a cultural transformation to change this problem. Chronic pain disproportionately affects those who have served or are serving in the military. A June 2014 report in "JAMA Internal Medicine" showed an alarmingly high rate of chronic pain—44 percent—among members of the U.S. military after combat deployment, compared to 26 percent in the general public.

Pain is not the only issue. According to the JAMA Internal Medicine report, 15 percent of U.S. military post-deployment use opioids, compared to 4 percent of the general public. Drugs such as opioids that are available to manage chronic pain are not consistently effective, have disabling side effects, may exacerbate pain conditions in some patients, and are often misused. According to NIDA, an estimated 52 million people (20 percent of those aged 12 and older) have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetimes.

"Prescription opioids are important tools for managing pain, but their greater availability and increased prescribing may contribute to their growing misuse," said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA. "This body of research will add to the growing arsenal of pain management options to give relief while minimizing the potential for abuse, especially for those bravely serving our nation in the armed forces." 

In addition to RTI, the 13 new studies within this initiative are led by researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina, Rush University Medical Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Palmer College of Chiropractic, University of Washington, Yale University, Brandeis University, University of Texas Health Science Center, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, Sepulveda Research Corporation, and University of New Mexico. 

male soldier with a distraught expression

Highlights

  • RTI International has been awarded one of 13 research projects to explore nondrug approaches to managing pain and related health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse, and sleep issues
  • The effort seeks to enhance options for the management of pain and associated problems in U.S. military personnel, veterans, and their families