New Hope for Patients Grappling with Pain

Published in Brain Wise - BrainWise Winter 2023

Greetings to all. In this season of dark days, let me shine a light on the work of our chronic pain service. A pleased patient wrote: Thank you for all of your support during my stay — the Pain Treatment Program was life-changing for me. I had the good fortune to be an inpatient when Dr. Glenn Treisman rotated [on the unit]. In addition to being among the best doctors I’ve encountered, his care and compassion for his patients is easy to see in everything he does, from supporting patients through significant decision points, to warm comments to passing patients and their families in the hallway. His resident often spent nights and weekends on his own time, reading about my case to develop ideas and solutions. Dr. Treisman and the team meticulously unraveled a very complex set of issues in me. I think this may be the only program that could have done it. They say this is a program where miracles happen. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it

Dr. Treisman and other faculty on this team take on some of the most difficult-to-treat patients, whose issues are medical and psychiatric, biological and behavioral. Dr. Traci Speed is an expert on the intersection of pain management and opioid addiction. Dr. Pat Carroll recently published a paper on handling the chronic pain of sickle cell disease, using a method developed here, over the course of 10 years. He and his team found that converting patients from full agonist opioids to buprenorphine resulted in a more than 70% reduction in overall care utilization. 

In another interesting report from our pain group, psychologist Claudia Campbell found, in a study of approximately 1,500 people with chronic pain, that difficulty regulating emotions — especially trouble identifying them — is an important predictor of outcomes. She suggests the value of expanding chronic pain intervention to include approaches such as emotional awareness and expression therapy, recently developed to help people with chronic pain identify, experience and express difficult emotions. Kudos to this talented and dedicated group of clinicians and researchers, working to lighten the load for patients with chronic pain. 

Jimmy Potash, M.D., M.P.H.

Henry Phipps Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Department Director and Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Johns Hopkins Medicine