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Were You Aware Of National Pain Awareness Week?

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What do you do if you hold a party and nobody comes? Well, there are a couple things you can do as a post-mortem, including assessing your own popularity. But more importantly you need to know whether or not the people who would actually care about the event knew about it and were given sufficient reason to attend.

The week that just passed was National Pain Awareness Week in Canada. (The official close date is November 12 but I don’t think this one day is going to increase people's awareness that much.) Although I read one of Canada's largest newspapers on a daily basis online, it took an email from my mother on Thursday for me to even find out about it.

Having a personal interest in the issue of chronic pain (I suffer from it), I decided to check out the website of the organization that was sponsoring the awareness week, The Canadian Pain Society, and see what they were doing to mark Pain Awareness Week, as well as what they did on an ongoing basis.

Well, according to the only information I could find on their website when I checked on Thursday, November 9 (halfway through their awareness week) was that there were three events scheduled. One, whose date and time were still to be announced as of Saturday, was a To Be Announced Gala Reception; and the two with set times were a lecture on pain in senior citizens, and a fundraising reception between 7:00 and 10:00 pm Thursday evening.

Heart-pounding stuff, don't you think? Really guaranteed to grab people's attention, build awareness and let people know all about the issues and the conditions that lead to non-malignant chronic pain. (I believe it is important to distinguish between cancer-induced, palliative care pain situations and non-cancer related pain. The simple reason is in the former, the primary concern should be to ensure the patient's absolute comfort no matter what the cost to cognitive abilities, and in the latter circumstances a patient's ability to function must be balanced with the need to control pain.) They didn't even coordinate it with this year's Global Day Against Pain – September 12 – which would seem to have been an ideal keystone to have built the week around.

Even the two events they have scheduled won't have done much to spread awareness about the condition where it's most needed, in the general population. I can't see the point in holding such an "awareness" event if the only ones who are going to be interested are those who are professionals in the field of pain management. Talk about preaching to the converted and being just a little self-congratulatory!

In fact the more I read through the site, the more that I came to realize that this was primarily geared towards health care professionals and others in the field of pain management. The aims of the group only include, as almost an aside, a statement that says they will inform the general public about advances made in the treatment of pain.

Now there is nothing wrong with an organization with the goals and objectives as outlined by this group, but what I object to is the fact that their name and the title they gave to this past week both imply a service they neither offer nor deliver. While there is of course a need for an organization coordinating the work of those working with chronic pain patients and those researching the same subject, there is also a need to educate the public at large and other medical professionals about the realties of chronic pain.

The employer with the employee who suffers from chronic pain is less likely to think they are malingering if they understood what the person was suffering with and attempting to work at the same time. (I was incredibly fortunate in this regard having had an employer who was exceedingly patient with me while I was being diagnosed and tying to continue working. They did their best to accommodate the condition and me until the very last day that I worked there.) Even family and friends need to understand that a person with chronic pain is like anybody else with a severe disability that limits their abilities. Because you don't look unhealthy it is very hard for people to get their heads around the fact that you are.

But where education should be a priority is amongst medical professionals who need to be able to treat their patients with the proper medications while they are seeing a specialist in an attempt to find a cure. This includes understanding that there is no crime in prescribing opiates to those who need them for pain control, and the chances of them becoming addicted to them is minimal if they are properly prescribed.

Drugs like morphine are not addictive as long as they are being used to fight pain because they are merely assisting the body's own abilities. If properly administered, the drugs will do nothing more than provide relief from pain, and the need for the drug will vanish along with the pain. How opiates can become addictive is if they are not given in sufficient dosage, leaving the body constantly craving them for relief, or if the drug is of insufficient strength in the first place to cope with problem.

In order for the drug to work effectively a person's body needs to establish a threshold of pain control using a long term or long lasting version of the medication that gradually release the medication into the system. Once the patient has taken enough doses consistently of the right strength his or her need for the much more addictive "fix" of the short-term medication is reduced.

The addictive craving only comes about if there is an appreciable positive result from taking the medication. If the body gets used to "feeling better" from popping a pill every four hours it is going to start wanting that pill, and begins wanting higher and higher doses in order to obtain that sensation as a tolerance is built up. With the long-term medication this craving is eliminated and the short-term drug is used only when the pain spikes and not on a scheduled, regular basis.

There are still far too many so-called medical professionals who will refuse to prescribe morphine because they don't understand how it is utilized and are denying their patients relief that may make a huge difference to the quality of their life. Yes there are people out there who are going to attempt to abuse the system and obtain drugs through false pretenses, but that is no reason to make those in genuine need suffer.

I would think any organization that calls itself by the name of The Canadian Pain Society is being remiss in its duties if it does not place equal emphasis on public education in an attempt to ensure that those it claims to speak for are cared for with compassion and understanding. There is nothing worse in the world than being treated like a drug addict by the very people who are supposed to be helping you.

Living with pain is a formidable enough challenge without having to overcome other people's prejudices in order to get the treatment you deserve. The Canadian Pain Society should make it their responsibility to assist those who suffer so they don't feel like they are in this alone. Is that too much to ask?

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Donnie Marler

    Richard,
    Good article on an important, extremely misunderstood subject. I wish you luck as you continue your personal battle.

  • http://www.jewels-richardson.blogspot.com Jewels

    I deal with chronic pain as well; I have lupus. My variety (currently) involves joint pain, fatigue, and the past several months a form of pleurisy which makes my lungs feel as if I’ve smoked 3 packs of cigs a day. (I don’t smoke – since 1993.) It is true that most physicians are extremely hesitant to offer any form of pharmaceutical pain relief, and I must say Tylenol or Motrin just don’t cut it sometimes. Thanks for the article.