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VA RESEARCH QUARTERLY UPDATE
This Issue: Ensuring High-Quality Care | Table of Contents: Fall 2017 | Download this issue

New Initiatives | Announcements

Interagency grant to study non-drug approaches to treat pain


VA is committed to finding new, non-drug approaches to treating chronic pain in Veterans.
(Photo for illustrative purposes only, ©iStock/zdenkam)
VA is committed to finding new, non-drug approaches to treating chronic pain in Veterans. (Photo for illustrative purposes only, ©iStock/zdenkam)

VA is committed to finding new, non-drug approaches to treating chronic pain in Veterans. (Photo for illustrative purposes only, ©iStock/zdenkam)

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs have jointly funded $81 million in research projects to investigate non-drug approaches to pain management for service members and Veterans. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, is the lead agency on the research initiative, called the NIH-DoD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory.

"We are so pleased to work alongside our federal partners to develop effective ways to treat pain in our service members and Veterans that do not expose them to the risks of opioids," said VA's chief research and development officer, Dr. Rachel Ramoni, in a NCCIH press release. "This work reflects the VA's commitment to reducing opioid overuse and expanding alternative pain management."

The grant encompasses 12 research projects that over the next six years will focus on developing and testing large-scale, real-world solutions for the treatment of chronic pain through non-drug approaches like mindfulness meditation and behavioral interventions. Seven projects have been awarded by HHS/NIH thus far, with five more to be awarded by DoD and VA. Of the projects awarded by NIH, three involve researchers at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven Connecticut:

  • Dr. Robert Kerns at the VA Pain Research, Informatics, Multimorbidities, and Education Center (PRIME) in West Haven, Connecticut, assisted by partners at VA, DoD, and Yale University, will create the Pain Management Collaboratory Coordinating Center. The center will serve as a national resource for development of innovative tools and best practices to support clinical trials on non-drug approaches to pain management in the VA and military health care systems.
  • Dr. Alicia Heapy, associate director of the VA PRIME Center in West Haven, Connecticut, has been awarded a grant to study the effectiveness of an interactive voice response form of cognitive behavioral therapy for management of chronic pain.
  • Dr. Marc Rosen, director of addiction recovery services, and Dr. Steve Martino, chief of psychology, both at VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, have been awarded a grant to study the effectiveness of a brief intervention for pain management in Veterans.

*To learn more about this study, read "Brief screening key to referral for VA chronic pain treatment."

According to the medical literature, 45 percent of service members and 50 percent of Veterans deal with pain on a recurring basis. In one NCCIH study, researchers found that Veterans experience more severe pain at higher rates than do non-Veterans. Chronic pain can often worsen the experience of other conditions that occur more often in Veterans, like PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Veterans also experience high rates of substance use disorders. According to the National Center for PTSD, one in 10 Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has a problem with alcohol or other drugs.



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