THUNDER BAY – Ontarians continue to buy into several myths surrounding prescription pain medications, according to just-released survey results.1 Commissioned by Eli Lilly Canada, the survey of 2,040 Canadians, including 655 Ontarians, found that misunderstandings exist about this category of medicines.
“The marketing of instant and complete relief for pain, combined with evidence of increased abuse of opioids, has unfortunately tainted the perception of Canadians when it comes to prescription pain medications,” suggests Dr. Philip Baer from the Ontario Medical Association. “Canadians need to know that prescription medications with manageable side-effects do exist that can effectively address chronic pain within an acceptable time period, without an abuse potential.”
Myth #1 – Prescription pain medications should work immediately
Unfortunately, Ontarians believe in a “quick fix” myth. When asked how soon they would expect a prescription medication used to treat chronic pain to begin to work, more than two-thirds of surveyed Ontarians (68%) strongly agree or somewhat agree they should begin to work immediately, within hours.1 According to Dr. Baer, Canadians need to be aware that obtaining relief from chronic pain requires a safe and effective treatment approach that can take some time.
“Medication is often a cornerstone of chronic pain management. It’s understandable that people who are suffering want instant relief from their chronic pain, but it is a myth that all prescription pain medications work immediately and within hours,” says Dr. Baer. “Many treatment options need more than a week to reach their full pain relieving effect, so those living with chronic pain need to be patient”.
Myth #2 – Prescription pain medications are addictive
Concern about the potential for addiction is front and centre when it comes to Ontarians’ views about prescription pain medication. In fact, six-in-ten surveyed Ontarians (64%) strongly agree or somewhat agree that prescription pain medications are addictive.1
“This should come as no surprise,” says Dr. Baer. “Over the past decade, increased abuse of and addiction to opioids, even when taken as prescribed, has emerged as a public health issue.
Unfortunately, this has created a fear mentality among Ontarians that all prescription pain medications may be addictive. There are safe and effective prescription pain medications that address specific types of chronic pain but without the dependence potential often associated with opioid use,” says Dr. Baer.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)2, the risk of opioid abuse appears to be higher in people with a history of addiction. Addiction is when a drug becomes central to a person’s thoughts, emotions and activities, and he or she feels a craving or compulsion to continue using the drug. This may or may not include physical dependence.
A study published in the journal Canadian Family Physician found that use of high-dose formulations of opioids jumped significantly in Canada between 2006 and 2011 (Ontario has the country’s highest overall rates for high-dose opioid prescribing, at 1,382 doses for every 1,000 people) despite guidelines advising doctors against giving such elevated doses to most patients.
The findings are significant because high-dose formulations of narcotic painkilling opioid drugs, can increase the risk of trauma, accidental overdose and death.
Myth #3 – Prescription pain medications will take away all of the pain
Despite a movement toward the use of medication as part of the equation in providing pain relief, some Ontarians are still making the assumption that prescription medication will provide total relief. A handful of surveyed Ontarians (19%) strongly agree or somewhat agree that prescription pain medication will take away all of the pain.
Experts point out that pain medication can provide relief by reducing pain, but may not fully eliminate pain.
That is why doctors are increasingly considering chronic pain a condition of its own requiring medication as well as complementary treatments, such as exercise, acupuncture, massage and biofeedback.
In fact, the Canadian Pain Coalition echoes this sentiment. According to Lynn Cooper, President of the Canadian Pain Coalition, “following a pain management plan that includes multiple approaches and that addresses a patient’s physical and emotional needs may help them feel a sense of control despite living with pain.”
Understanding facts about pain
It is important that patients are aware of the facts associated with the use of prescription medications. For example, prescription medications are commonly associated with side effects. When asked if they are concerned about the side-effects of prescription pain medications, almost two-thirds of Ontarians who were surveyed (65%) strongly agree or somewhat agree with this statement.1 However, experts point out that many side effects can be managed, allowing patients to safely benefit from the medication.
While Ontarians understand that prescription pain medications are not risk free, they also recognize that the mind and the body are interconnected when it comes to chronic pain.
According to the survey, more than three-quarters of surveyed Ontarians (76%) strongly agree or somewhat agree that the mind and the body each play a role when it comes to chronic pain.1 As experts point out and many Ontarians agree, pain is affected by multiple factors at play in the nervous system. Mood, past experiences and expectations can all change the way pain is interpreted at any given time. Negative emotions, including sadness and anxiety, for example, seem to aggravate chronic pain.
Get a pain management plan
If you live with chronic pain, it is important to talk to your doctor about your pain symptoms, safe and effective treatments options, and a pain management plan to help you better manage your pain so you can get on with life and enjoy the things you like to do.
According to Dr. Baer, “while knowing the facts about prescription pain medications is important, so is learning about the availability of other supportive therapies. Following a pain management plan can help to regain a sense of control, despite living with chronic pain.”