"The cure is worse than the disease", it has been said about some supposed remedies. We might be at that point in the treatment of acute and especially chronic pain with opioid (narcotic) analgesics. In this article in the May 9th issue of JAMA Dowell et al make the astute observation that as opioid related deaths have quadrupled in the last decade or so, people have not become more susceptible to the drugs - it's just that their exposure has increased. Exposure increased because several alleged patient advocacy groups (American Pain Society, Veteran's Health Administration, the Joint Commission) campaigned to convince physicians that they were not adequately recognizing and treating pain, callously leaving countless patients unnecessarily writhing in abject misery. Led by these and other coalitions of busybodies, we went from possible undertreatment of pain (with narcotics) straight to guaranteed bona fide undeniable overtreatment (with a brief pass through [but not a stop at] optimal treatment). Part of this overzealous campaign was the coining (original source unknown) of the contagious catchphrase "pain as the fifth vital sign."
This is interesting because pain is a SYMPTOM, something reported by a patient (part of the HISTORY), whereas a [vital] SIGN is an observation or measurement (part of the PHYSICAL EXAMINATION) made by a practitioner such as blood pressure, heart rate, a bruise on the skin, a pulsatile uvula (Muller's sign), or some other finding. (The more rare, uncontemporaneous, and useless a sign is, the more likely its name is an eponym.) But the pain coalition (PC) successfully circumvented this convention by cooking up pain scales and cutesy numbered diagrams bounded by smiley faces and sad faces, adding a cloak of objective legitimacy to the subjective experience of pain.