New research by economists in the United States and Iceland has put a price tag on what it's worth to Americans to live without chronic pain.
The researchers, using a massive government survey of Americans over age 50, estimated in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that living with chronic pain makes people so unhappy that they'd need to earn between $20,000 and $50,000 per year more to be as happy as they would be otherwise with no pain. Another way of looking at it: People would pay between $56 and $145 per day to be just as happy as they otherwise are, but pain-free.
There are a lot of people in the US who deal with pain — a 2012 National Institutes of Health survey found that 25 million Americans reported daily chronic pain, with 23 million more complaining about severe pain.
The United States spends billions of dollars to treat chronic pain — and so researchers want to know how much it's worth to people to have that pain alleviated. The economists who did this study say it's important so that policymakers can decide how much money they should assign to pain treatment versus other spending priorities.
That's a big question as the United States continues to wrestle with the opioid crisis. Heavily addictive painkillers were originally marketed as a way to treat the pain that afflicts millions of Americans. Instead, they contributed to a drug epidemic that's killing tens of thousands of people each year. Putting a price tag on pain can help evaluate new and less addictive approaches to pain treatment.