The fight against pain is being waged on many fronts in the U.S. As Amy Katz reports, pain management as a medical specialty is growing, while drug companies are searching for new medicines to treat chronic and recurrent pain.
Lauren Elsen is an American medical student who has traveled to Beijing -- to study Chinese medicine. "It's been around for thousands of years, so something about it must help."
She is among a growing number of Westerners who are looking East for new ways to treat pain.
Dr. Scott Fishman is the President of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. "There's a saying that Western doctors have relationships with diseases rather than with patients. And I think that's a flaw in our system and we can learn from the Eastern healing arts."
It seems to be working. In California, at UCLA's Center for East-West medicine, Dr. Ka-Hit Hui uses a holistic approach to treat his patients' pain. "You need a new model of health care that looks at the body, mind and spirit and its interaction with the natural sort of environment."
Dana Tonsich is one of his patients. She used to suffer from severe migraine headaches. The pain had changed her life -- for the worse. Now Dr. Hui is treating her with a combination of therapies, including acupuncture, therapeutic movement like Tai Chi and Yoga, as well as Chinese herbs.
"Now, I'm out having fun, seeing friends, back to the life I had led," Dana boasted.
Doctors at the Wasser Pain Management Center are also using acupuncture on pain patients along with other non-conventional treatments -- such as hypnosis -- to help control pain.
Patient Elaine Leve says it works. "If I sit back and say that I'm just going to concentrate on breathing, even for a few moments, it will break the chain."
American doctors have been reluctant to experiment with alternative treatments. But, in the small, but growing, pain management field they are now the norm. In the approximately 200 pain clinics in the U.S., doctors use any number of treatments to find a combination that will end a patient's suffering.
But according to a recent public opinion poll, more than 80 percent of Americans still prefer to treat their pain with over-the-counter drugs. That has drug companies trying to create new medicines to treat pain better.
One such company, Eli Lilly, is looking at the route pain travels from one nerve to the next, all the way to the brain.
A Canadian company is trying to create a drug from puffer fish -- because its venom is capable of paralyzing a person in minutes. Tests already show it can relieve pain in cancer patients for two weeks.
Another company, GlaxoSmithKline, has determined the sensor in the body that reacts to hot chili peppers plays a role in pain. It is testing a compound to turn that sensor off.
Much of the current medicine used to treat severe pain comes from the opium plant and is addictive. Yet another company is testing a drug that combines an opium derivative with a medication that blocks addiction.
Unfortunately, for those who are in pain, these drugs are all years away.