This week, Painaustralia launched Australia’s first National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management. This 25-page document is the culmination of a year’s work for our organisation, but also the result of decades of advocacy and effort across the sector.
This plan is partly a testimony to increased Federal Government support for the issue of pain. In many ways it also highlights that for too long pain has not been treated as a significant chronic health condition requiring dedicated resources. Pain as an issue, has been missing from health and public policy discussions, despite the huge toll chronic pain continues to take on millions of Australians every day.
This new plan is an opportunity to recognise that each and every one of the 3.4 million people living with chronic pain is different. More people need to understand that pain can be almost as unique as your fingerprint. It maybe rheumatoid arthritis that keeps someone’s joints painfully stiff, it may be endometriosis that keeps them curled up in bed. It could be back pain that hampers their daily life and routine, it may be fibromyalgia that has them afraid to hug someone they love. It could be chronic pain resulting from cancer treatment, or complex regional pain syndrome that has them living with pins and needles in every limb. Can anyone really decide whose pain is more debilitating, who is ‘suffering’ more, and if there is one right ‘pain-killer’ solution for all these people?
Understanding the complexity and individuality of pain is the essence of this new Action Plan. There is no one solution that should be imposed on everyone experiencing pain. The Action Plan sets out over 50 evidence based implementable practices that will help change the way pain is managed.
Pain is not being well managed in Australia. Over 70% of GP consultations that involve pain management result in the prescription of medication. Medications are an important part of managing pain, but do not necessarily need to be the first line of therapy when people in pain are looking for help.
There is now increasing evidence suggesting ongoing medication use is often not the best approach for long term management of pain. Some medications, like opioids, carry increased risk of prolonged pain and dependence. Nearly three Australians are losing their life to opioid misuse and harm every day, many just wanted help with their pain, but ended up in a worse situation, experiencing serious depression and dependence.
Australia needs to ensure the treatment options offered to the millions of people who are looking for help in addressing their pain extend well beyond a prescription. At the very least work in conjunction with medication to give people the best opportunity of managing or ideally overcoming long term debilitating pain.
Painaustralia wants more consumers to have access to the best information about treatment options and choice about which of those options to pursue. This includes: the choice to get a referral to physiotherapist if that is what will help them with their function and mobility; the choice to see a psychologist who may be able to help with identifying and developing skills to change negative thoughts; the choice to be referred to a pain specialist who knows that the management of severe and persistent pain problems requires the skills of more than one medical group. All people experiencing pain should be able to see a pharmacist who can guide them through their medication regime, have an exercise plan that can help with strengthening their body, talk to a nutritionist to check their diet. Most importantly, people who experience ongoing persistent pain all want to talk to a health professional that both acknowledges and understands their pain.
The first goal of the new plan is to ensure that pain is recognised as a national and public health priority. Until we acknowledge the experiences of people living with pain, we cannot hope to improve their lives or help reduce the unacceptable economic social and health burden created through inadequate responses to chronic pain.
Australia can and must do better for people who experience pain, their families, their workplaces and communities. We have a long way to go, but Australia is now emerging as a leader in a revolution to better manage pain – we now have an opportunity to be a global trailblazer. We cannot afford to back away now.