Leading institute calls for better pain management at the end

28 May, 2009

Despite the availability of new and effective treatments for all types of pain, including cancer pain, many people in the final stages of life still suffer preventable pain and anxiety because of inadequate pain management.

These patients would benefit greatly from more advanced and enlightened pain management which could be achieved through better access to current knowledge and more collaboration between primary care professionals and palliative care and pain medicine specialists.

This is the view of Professor Michael Cousins, a world-leading pain medicine specialist and palliative care physician. Professor Cousins heads a team of researchers, educators and clinicians at the Pain Management Research Institute at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, who are involved in developing new models of pain treatment, using new drugs and other interventions to control acute, chronic and cancer pain.

“PMRI strongly supports the aim of National Palliative Care Week to encourage awareness and debate about the issues people face at the end of life and how these affect individuals, families and the community,” said Professor Cousins.

“Statistics show that 70% of people at the end of life suffer pain caused by their disease, their treatment or other factors. Much of this can be prevented with appropriate pain management.

“It is universally acknowledged that pain remains poorly treated because of a number of factors. For example: limited knowledge, or lack of application of existing knowledge by healthcare professionals; fear of addiction and side effects of pain relieving medications; an inadequate range of drugs available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, such as drugs for severe nerve damage pain; as well as for medical, cultural, political, religious and legal reasons.

“In Australia and elsewhere, many medical practitioners are reluctant to prescribe pain relieving medications for patients with persistent pain, despite the research and experience which shows these can be used safely and effectively for long periods of time if required.

“For people suffering from cancer and other painful conditions in the final stages of life, adequate pain management is one of the most important ingredients in ensuring a reasonable quality of life.”

The under-treatment of pain internationally, has led to a growing movement among patient advocates to promote effective pain relief as a basic human right, and to address this comprehensively from a medical, legal and ethical perspective.

In 2004, the World Health Organisation and the International Association for the Study of Pain hosted a global day against pain in Geneva, where Professor Cousins was invited to speak on “Pain Management as a Human Right”.