The movement was in high gear when I became a hospitalist in 1999. It was apparent to me early on that this was pure dogma being shoved down doctors' throats. I felt a little intimidated in calling out the pseudoscience at the time, though, because as the WSJ article notes, adherents to the movement were driven by an almost religious fervor:
Steven Passik, a psychologist who once worked closely with Dr. Portenoy and describes him as his mentor, says their message wasn't based on scientific evidence so much as a zeal to improve patients' lives. "It had all the makings of a religious movement at the time," he says. "It had that kind of a spirit to it."
Back then if you challenged the groupthink tempers were likely to flare.
What still baffles me is why so many doctors accepted the biggest and most obvious load of nonsense, the idea that pain, long established in clinical medicine as a symptom, could suddenly become a sign. Even The Joint Commission and my own professional organization, the Society of Hospital Medicine (then known as NAIP) were serving the Kool-aid.
Other nutty ideas were promulgated:
Opiates are safe.
Uh huh. How's that working these days?
Doctors' concerns about opiate addiction are overstated; true opiate addiction is in fact rare.
Ten years or so ago if you pointed out narcotic seeking behavior you would be told, dismissively, that this was not addiction but pseudoaddiction. Pseudoaddiction, they said, was merely behavior exhibited by a patient whose pain was uncontrolled. Put another way, if your patient engaged in seeking behavior it meant you were not doing your job.
Pain can be measured.
Translate: pain is not subjective. Pain does not have emotional components. How many people knew that was a crock but were too intimidated to call it out?
No one should have to experience pain. Pain can be made to disappear from the planet.
Really? How about all those patients on chronic narcotics who have had their doses increased, time and time again, to ridiculously high levels, and are still suffering?
As pain retires from its position as the fifth vital sign the pendulum will swing. Likely it will swing too far. Draconian medical board policies with their unintended consequences lie ahead. NSAID use is likely to increase, despite the cardiovascular risks which for many patients are greater than the hazards of opiates.
Be that as it may it's time to stop the madness. Twenty years ago the field of pain management was in need of improvement. But the improvement needed to be informed by science, not dogma.