Monday, November 28, 2022

Health care providers ‘woefully ill-prepared’ to treat chronic pain, says advocate | CBC Radio

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The Current24:55Federal government pledges $5 million to help Canadians living with chronic pain

Sarah Rose Eaman has been living with constant pain since she was 12 years old — but she says her condition isn’t taken seriously.

“I’ve been to more doctors than I can count who really just didn’t believe me. Chronic pain is one of those things where it is very much a disability, but it’s not a visible one in a lot of cases,” Eaman told Matt Galloway on The Current.

The federal government is hoping $5 million in funding will provide relief to people struggling with chronic pain, and reduce the use of potentially toxic street drugs.

But some advocates say more needs to be done.

Eaman has a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, which causes damage to major facial nerves. It causes what she describes as stabs and electric shocks of pain, and constant aches in her face. 

In her teenage years, she also had a condition that led to a misaligned jaw. She says it was mistreated by some doctors, only making the trigeminal neuralgia worse.

“Now it is damaged. There’s really nothing we can do about it. So it’s just about pain management, pretty much for my life,” said Eaman. 

Sarah Rose Eaman has been living with severe chronic pain since she was 12 years old. (Submitted by Sarah Rose Eaman)

Eaman, who lives in Toronto, says the pain has taken a toll on her mental health as well. She developed an eating disorder in college, and struggles with depression.

Eaman is on prescribed opioids. At first she was nervous to take them, even with doctors recommending it, but she’s glad she did. 

“Once I started taking them, my perspective shifted and I hope a lot of people’s perspectives will shift on chronic pain patients taking opioids. It was life-changing,” said Eaman. 

“I wish I could go back and tell teenage Sarah that it’s safe, and life changing, and will make you functional, as much as you can be.” 

‘Woefully ill-prepared’

Maria Hudspith, executive director of Pain BC, says this isn’t a new problem. 

“Health-care providers have been woefully ill-prepared to assess and treat pain,” said Hudspith. 

“Studies going back a number of years noted that veterinarians in Canadian universities received two to five times the training in pain assessment and treatment than any health professionals in our Canadian universities.”

Hudspith says this has been slowly changing, as medical schools now have more comprehensive curricula on chronic pain, and Canada puts more funding toward helping people who need it. 

Out of the federal government’s announced funding, $4.5 million will go toward expanding the Pain Canada Network in British Columbia over the next five years. That includes enhancing national collaboration, scaling up best practices and expanding resources for those living with chronic pain.

Maria Hudspith is the executive director of Pain B.C., a non-profit organization created in 2008 to help patients and health-care providers with educational resources, peer support and tools to assess and manage pain. (CBC)

Another $520,000 will go to improving access to services for LGBTQ residents in B.C., as well as those in Chinese, Punjabi and Arabic-speaking communities.

But Hudspith says more is needed.

“I really see it as an initial investment. Certainly it’s not enough. It’s not going to expand access to specific health services or pain clinics. This funding is really directed toward building those bottom-up supports,” she said.

She added that more funding will be essential to dealing with the toxic drug crises. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 171 people died from toxic drugs in the province in September alone.

Since April 2016, when the province declared a toxic drug public health emergency, an estimated 10,505 people have died due to poisoned illicit drugs.

“We’ve seen this over and over in virtually every report on the overdose crisis, that untreated pain is a significant contributor to the crisis, to the loss of lives,” said Hudspith.

“We’ve seen incredible investments in harm reduction, which we absolutely support. But we have not seen those further upstream investment in pain, which really could stem the tide of the overdose crisis.” 

Produced by Samantha Lui, Brianna Gosse, and Idella Sturino.

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