What Anderson Cooper's Show About Prescription Addiction Got Wrong About Chronic Pain


Paul Gileno is the founder and former president of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

The “Anderson Cooper 360” town hall “Prescription Addiction: Made in America,” which aired May 11 on CNN, further stigmatized people with pain. I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the one-sided, biased discussion surrounding pain medication that completely disregarded the voices of people living with debilitating pain.

U.S. Pain Foundation was asked to participate. As an organization, we were hopeful this would be the start of a positive, constructive conversation bringing better resources, understanding and help to those dealing with addiction and those courageous individuals battling unrelenting chronic pain. Sadly, the outcome was not what we had hoped. Instead, the show was another slight to the pain community. It now seems U.S. Pain was invited not because they valued our opinion and wanted to bring the true story to the forefront, but rather because they wanted to show that all sides of problem were included in the “discussion.”

The apparent goal of the program was to further stigmatize people with pain by pushing an agenda — an agenda that harms those suffering with pain. The town hall meeting showed that CNN and Anderson Cooper do not think people with pain matter. The hour-long “conversation” appeared to be scripted, was extremely discriminant to the pain population and was potentially hazardous. It is a travesty that millions of Americans are treated as second-hand citizens in the opinions and views of mainstream media, government officials and society.

Mr. Cooper, a true journalist attempts to give the full picture and tries to show the whole story. They do not push an agenda or ignore an entire population of people suffering from pain. Sadly, Kay Sanford was the only person with pain given the opportunity to speak. Appallingly, both Anderson Cooper and Dr. Drew Pinsky interrupted her as she shared her experiences and tried to ask a question. They were dismissive of her pain journey. In a mind-blowing moment, those on the panel even had the audacity to say her story was the minority. This shows me CNN had an agenda, which did not include highlighting the courage or struggles of people with pain.

U.S. Pain maintains that addiction is a serious epidemic in America that also faces societal stigmatization. However, the foundation believes the pandemic of pain in America is just as important. Those with pain have to prove their pain daily, and mainstream news outlets that preach a “balanced approach to reporting” are in fact making the situation more difficult for us to have voice and stake in the solution. They are impeding our ability to have access to the pain care we need and deserve. When will people with pain matter enough? What must happen for our voices to be heard?

As founder of U.S. Pain Foundation, I am asking for your help today — right now, in this moment. I encourage all of you to contact those CNN producers who led us to believe we would have a voice at the table. Together, let’s encourage them to do a show on pain and the realities of pain. I encourage you to speak out against these so-called journalists and reputable leaders in the field of medicine (such as Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Leana Wen and Dr. Drew Pinsky) who are harming people with pain by not sharing the whole story. Speak your mind and share your feelings on social media.

There is strength in numbers. Let’s start a public outcry for a new show about the plight of people with pain. Talk about the challenges you face accessing adequate pain care, and the difficulties you have overcome to find a new normal. This isn’t only about pain medication; this is about making sure millions of Americans are not further degraded or discredited. It is about advocating for better solutions that are covered by our health care and accessible to all.

Take this opportunity to empower and educate those who should have done better research. Let them know this type of program causes more scrutiny as well as heartache and pain for people who are already judged, marginalized and stigmatized. I am asking everyone to speak loud and speak often. People with pain matter. I repeat: People with pain matter.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


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