Patients welcome new pain national strategy

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The federal government has launched a new National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management.

According to the report, one-in-five Australian live with chronic pain, which is defined as daily pain for more than three months, experienced in the last three months.

Pain is associated with comorbidities such as depression, sleep disturbance and fatigue, which can combine to negatively impact work, sleep, and relationships.

A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics, which was commissioned by Painaustralia, found the cost of pain to Australian taxpayers was $139.3 billion in 2018.

"This was on top of the fact that last year alone, Australians paid $2.7 billion in out of pocket expenses to manage their pain, with costs to the health system in excess of $12 billion," it found.

The report says there is generally low awareness amongst consumers and healthcare professionals of pain and treatment options but a heavy reliance on medicines with a 30 per cent increase in opioid prescribing between 2009 and 2014.

"The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care revealed opioid medications were being prescribed in some regional areas at 10 times the rate of other areas and they recommend action on pain and opioid management in rural areas," it says.

"Rising numbers of Australians are dying from accidentally overdosing on a prescription drug. The rate of opioid induced deaths almost doubled in 10 years, from 3.8 to 6.6 deaths per 100,000 Australians between 2007 and 2016 and more than three-quarters of all drug deaths involved pharmaceutical opioids.

"There is growing interest in ensuring the safe and effective use of medications. Specific and significant recent changes were made to address these issues, including the upscheduling of codeine and the decision to progress real time prescription monitoring. However, there is more that can be done to address over-reliance on pain medications and its negative consequences."

The new plan has established eight goals with objectives to be achieved by 2021.

One of the goals, relating to improved outcomes and ongoing evaluation of interventions, includes objectives focused on the quality use of medicines and an enhanced understanding of pharmacological and non-pharmacological pain management.

It recommends a trial of preventative quality use of medicine strategies to "alleviate the transition from sub-acute to chronic pain" with a potential role for NPS MedicineWise.

It also recommends that investing in research into pain and pain medicine should be a priority for the Medical Research Future Fund and NHMRC.

Painaustralia welcomed the report. 

“This Action Plan provides us with a clear pathway to meet the challenges that chronic pain poses to all Australians. The Deloitte Access Economics Cost of Pain report released by Minister Hunt in April this year has highlighted the seriousness of the pain burden in Australia and makes a clear case for investment and support to prevent and manage chronic pain conditions,” said CEO Carol Bennett.

Ms Bennett also welcomed the Coalition's $6.8 million pre-election commitment to improving pain management and establishing a National Advisory Council on Pain.