Pain in Canada and the need for a national pain strategy.

First off, I want to thank all of you for your support during this National Pain Awareness week! I’m thrilled to say that Brittany’s story – deservedly –  brought in the most traffic I’ve ever had on this blog! Go Brittany!

Now, back to the reason I’m blogging tonight. I know that I’ve posted some of the following facts from the Canadian Pain Coalition before but here they are again (just as they appear on the website) for my new followers and those of you who haven’t seen them. It gives some startling insight into just how many people are directly impacted by chronic pain in Canada alone.

Pain in Canada Fact Sheet

• Although we have the knowledge and technology, Canadians are left in pain after surgery, even in our top hospitals
• Only 30% of ordered medication is given, 50% of patients are left in moderate to severe pain after surgery and the situation is not improving (Watt-Watson, Stevens et al. 2004; Watt-Watson, Choiniere et al. 2010)
• Growing evidence has identified that many common surgical procedures cause persistent post-operative pain that becomes chronic (Kehlet, Jensen et al. 2006)
• Pain is the most common reason for seeking health care and as a presenting complaint accounts for up to 78% of visits to the emergency department, recent research continues to document high pain intensity and suboptimal pain management in a large multicenter emergency department network in Canada and the United States (Todd, Ducharme et al. 2007).
• Uncontrolled pain compromises immune function, promotes tumor growth and compromises healing with increased morbidity and mortality following surgery (Liebeskind 1991)
• One in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain, children are not spared and the prevalence increases with age (Moulin, Clark et al. 2002; Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010)
• Many cancer and HIV survivors have greater quantity of life but unfortunately a poor quality of life due to chronic pain conditions caused by the disease or the treatments that cause irreversible damage to nerves (Levy, Chwistek et al. 2008; Phillips, Cherry et al. 2010)
• Chronic pain is associated with the worst quality of life as compared with other chronic diseases such as chronic lung or heart disease (Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010).
• Chronic pain costs more than cancer, heart disease and HIV combined. Estimates place direct health care costs for Canada to be more than $6 billion per year and productivity costs related to job loss and sick days at $37 billion per year (Phillips and Schopflocher 2008; Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010)
• People living with pain have double the risk of suicide as compared with people without chronic pain (Tang and Crane 2006)
• A recent review of opioid (narcotic) related deaths in Ontario, identified the tragic fact that pain medication related deaths in Ontario are increasing and that most of the people who died had been seen by a physician within 9-11 days prior to death (emergency room visits and office visits respectively) and the final encounter with the physician involved a mental health or pain related diagnosis. In almost a quarter of the cases the coroner had determined that the manner of death was suicide (Dhalla, Mamdani et al. 2009)
• Veterinarians get 5 times more training in pain than people doctors and 3 times more training than nurses (Watt-Watson, McGillion et al. 2008)
• Pain research is grossly under-funded in Canada (Lynch, Schopflocher et al. 2009)

Here are a few things that you can do to help:
Find your member of parliament and write them about the significant public health issues chronic pain in Canada presents.
• Volunteer with the Canadian Pain Coalition, click here to learn more.
• Spread the word about chronic pain on social media.
• Hang informative posters in your local doctor’s offices and hospital lobbies.
• Ask for permission to operate an information booth at your local hospital.
• Contact your local paper about doing a story on chronic pain in Canada.

Call to action

We haven’t yet been successful in getting the federal government to implement a national pain strategy in Canada – the main reason behind the Canadian Pain Summit. But, with continued effort, hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish this in the near future. The pain strategy aims to improve and target 4 key areas in relation to chronic pain: awareness and education; increased access to best care practices; enhanced pain research capacity; and ongoing monitoring of delivery of care, patient experience, quality of life and level of function. 

Clearly, there are so many things that need to be addressed in order to improve the lives of those with chronic pain. It’s a very complex problem and it’s not going to just disappear with a few simple fixes by a few specific people – it’s so much bigger than that. But, I can say having met some of the members of the Canadian Pain Coalition as well as Sandy Smeenk of the ILC Foundation, that we are extremely lucky to have such dedicated, compassionate and hardworking people out there, fighting so tirelessly to make change. I can’t even begin to thank them for all that they have done and continue to do for not only me but all of us.

I never could have imagined just how much sending in that essay to the faces of pain writing contest would forever change my life. If I hadn’t done so I never would’ve met all of these incredible, life changing people.

2 thoughts on “Pain in Canada and the need for a national pain strategy.

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