Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen are shown in Toronto, Dec. 23, 2017. People who live with chronic pain need options beyond prescription opioids, and it’s up to the British Columbia government to provide more services such as physiotherapy, says the head of a group that supports patients and their families. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

Chronic pain patients need options beyond opioids: B.C. advocate

People who live with chronic pain need options beyond prescription opioids, and it’s up to the BC government to provide more services

People who live with chronic pain need options beyond prescription opioids, and it’s up to the British Columbia government to provide more services such as physiotherapy, says the head of a group that supports patients and their families.

“There has really been a lack of any appropriate response to chronic pain in our province and in our country,” said Maria Hudspith, executive director of Pain BC, the only non-profit society in Canada to bring together clinical experts and policy-makers to work on chronic pain management initiatives.

Beside painkillers, patients must have access to physical therapy and psychological support but wait lists stretch from one to three years at the few specialized pain clinics in the province, she said.

“We’ve seen this overreliance on the prescription pad as the only tool in the toolbox,” Hudspith said. “Some people may become dependent on the medication in order to function and some of those people may become addicted.”

One in five people in B.C. lives with pain that can be relentless and crippling but she said some communities have no specialized health-care providers for patients who need intervention after an injury or surgery, for example.

Related: Tailored response in Alberta, B.C. for South Asians addicted to opioids

A lack of dedicated pain services means patients make more doctors’ visits and may require more surgeries, resulting in high health-care costs and poor quality of life, Hudspith said.

“There’s a growing recognition that this is a huge problem that is really, in many way, at the root of a lot of issues that we’re seeing.”

Hudspith said Pain BC has been in discussions with the provincial government to expand services.

Neither the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions or the Health Ministry could provide any information when the provincial government was contacted for comment.

In June 2016, B.C. doctors became the first in Canada to face mandatory standards for prescribing opioids and other addictive medications. At the time, the College of Physicians and Surgeons replaced guidelines offering only recommendations with legal standards that allowed for consequences, such as complaint hearings and disciplinary action.

Related: Physiotherapy could help combat B.C.’s opioid crisis: report

Following the introduction of the standards, some doctors began weaning or cutting patients off pain medication. Hudspith said that has left people suffering, especially if they don’t have access to other options for pain relief.

“We have documented cases of people who are no longer able to work, they’ve maxed out their sick time, they’re contemplating going on disability,” she said.

While the college’s policy came into effect with the intention of minimizing the effects of opioids in the midst of an overdose crisis, overdoses have “continued like a runaway train,” Hudspith said.

“There are people who have said to us or have said to their physicians or MLAs (members of the legislature) that they are going to the street and buying opioids through the illicit market despite the risk,” she said.

The society has been working with the province’s medical association to create educational material for doctors, but Hudspith said “robust mentoring” is crucial so doctors and other clinicians can build their skills to provide evidence-based care for people who suffer from chronic pain.

Related: Ex-B.C. health minister says pot promising substitute for opioid addiction

“Chronic pain is a very misunderstood condition. The approach needs to be very different from other chronic conditions that are very well understood.”

She cited Project Echo, a mentoring program in Ontario, as a way to care for patients with chronic pain as doctors get guidance on specific challenges from a team of experts.

Serena Patterson, a psychologist in Comox, B.C., said she has suffered with fibromyalgia for 30 years and also developed migraines before starting to see clients with chronic pain, many of whom suffer from depression, shame and stigma.

Some people go from doctor to doctor for years trying to get help for conditions that remain undiagnosed for years while they’re denied long-term disability and unable to work or afford private therapists, she said.

Publicly funded clinics with a variety of experts who work together, including nurses and other health-care providers offering physical, occupational, massage and psychological therapy, would serve patients most effectively, Patterson said.

“We have a medical system that is geared toward fixing acute problems but does a terrible job with chronic pain.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Mountain biker rescued

An injured mountain biker has been rescued by Fernie Search and Rescue.

Cameras to capture airborne dust

The District of Sparwood will install two cameras to document airborne dust caused by a nearby mine.

Housing affordability in spotlight

Elkford residents will soon learn the results of a survey on affordable housing for seniors.

Veteran golfer reflects on club anniversary

With a spring in his step, Patsy Caravetta hops up the steps… Continue reading

30 degrees and warmer forecasted with heat wave in B.C.

The weather could stay well into next week, according to Environment Canada

Canada won’t ‘play politics’ on U.S. migrant children policy

The U.S. government is under fire over its ”zero tolerance” policy

Late goal gives England 2-1 win over Tunisia

At the last World Cup in 2014, England couldn’t even win a game

Canadian military police officer pleads not guilty to sex assault

Sgt. Kevin MacIntyre, 48, entered his plea today at a court martial proceeding in Halifax

RCMP identify Beasley body, foul play suspected

The remains of Lemar Halimi were discovered in May

Cheers erupt as Federal Court judge approves historic gay purge settlement

Gay military veterans said they were interrogated, harassed and spied on because of their sexuality

Remains of two people found on Vancouver Island

Officials have not said whether or not the remains belong to two missing men, last seen in Ucluelet in mid-May

Helping B.C.’s helpers cope

The MRT has helped almost 7,000 first responders and street workers in 57 communities in B.C.

Border officials argue B.C. man’s Facebook posts threat to Canada’s security

A B.C. Supreme Court judge acquitted Othman Hamdan of terrorism charges last September

Reena Virk’s mother has died

Both of Virk’s parents became activists against bullying in wake of daughter’s death

Most Read