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Canadians in pain aren't seeking proper help from doctors

May 13, 2010 » Calgary

Canadians in pain aren’t seeking proper help from doctors

Pain awareness groups call for a national strategy after poll finds many sufferers don’t seek medical help

Dawn Walton

While the vast majority of Canadians have recently suffered from “moderate to severe pain,” more than half of them do not bother seeking medical treatment for the condition, and a “shocking” number are treating it with alcohol or illegal drugs, according to a new poll.

The survey, to be released Thursday by a pain awareness group, outlines the crippling health and economic costs of pain and is prompting calls for a national strategy to address the problem.

“Many people continue to think about pain as an underlying symptom of injury or disease,” said Dr. Mary Lynch, president of the Canadian Pain Society and director of the pain management unit at Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. “Chronic pain is a disease in its own right.”

She said a policy needs to be put in place to tackle service delivery and funnel more money toward research and education for health-care providers, who currently receive scanty information about pain. Veterinarians receive five times as much training on the topic as medical school students, she added.

The Pain Society of Canada, which has about 850 members including doctors, dentists and other health professionals, is a founder of painexplained.ca, an initiative that commissioned the survey. (The campaign also counts pharmaceutical companies as its partners.) The society is holding its annual meeting in Calgary this week, to look at unravelling the mysteries of pain.

The Leger Marketing poll of 1,033 adults between April 13 and 15 found that 85 per cent of adult Canadians had suffered at least one incident of “moderate to severe pain” within the previous three months. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of respondents said they’ve felt pain daily or at least a few days each week, which meets the criteria doctors use to diagnose chronic pain.

(The poll has a margin of error plus or minus 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.)

Despite their discomfort, 55 per cent of respondents did not seek treatment from a health-care provider. Of those who did seek help, 31 per cent said they were unhappy with the treatment. The majority of pain sufferers said they treated their symptoms with over-the-counter products, but some were coping in unhealthy ways.

One in six respondents said they turned to alcohol, illegal drugs or non-prescribed medications for their pain.

That number was the “most shocking” aspect to the survey for Dr. Roman Jovey, a steering committee member with painexplained.ca and program medical director with the Centres for Pain Management in Mississauga, Ont.

“What that speaks to is lack of accessibility to adequate treatment,” he said. “Why are people self- medicating if there were resources out there?”

Six to eight million Canadians live with chronic pain, according to estimates. A 2008 study found that the condition costs the health-care system more than $6-billion a year. And it also costs the economy.

An earlier painexplained.ca poll found that chronic pain results in absenteeism as well as loss of income and jobs.

When Lynn Cooper injured her back at work in 1986 she was off for three weeks, but her condition soon expanded into full-body and migraine pain. She initially tried physiotherapy, took pain medication and “was told to go home and live with it.”

She struggled in her urban and regional planning career for three years before leaving entirely.

Since then, Ms. Cooper has been trying to raise awareness about chronic pain and remove the stigma associated with it as president of the Canadian Pain Coalition, a patient advocacy group,

“We’re treated as complainers, malingerers and drug-seekers,” she said “There is still not the political will to make pain a health priority in Canada.”