British Columbia

Advocates call for better understanding, treatment of chronic pain in health-care sector

Real action needs to be taken to address untreated chronic pain, say advocates. According to a report, the diagnosis is linked to the opioid overdose crisis and prevalent mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Canada's National Pain Awareness Week takes place on Nov. 7-13 this year

According to Pain B.C. Society, chronic pain affects nearly eight million people in Canada. (Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock)

Keith Meldrum in Kelowna, B.C., who has been living with chronic pain for more than three decades, says at the beginning of his journey he struggled with health-care professionals who didn't fully understand his experiences.

Now, as an advocate with Pain B.C. Society, he's asking the public to learn more about chronic pain during the annual National Pain Awareness Week, which this year takes place on Nov. 7-13.

The awareness campaign is organized by the society and dozens of other health-related organizations across the country to advocate for a better understanding of chronic pain, which affects nearly eight million people in Canada. 

Meldrum, 51, has been living with chronic pain in his abdomen, flank and legs every day due to injuries from a car accident when he was 16. 

He says he didn't cope with the pain well during the first 20 years because of a lack of care and awareness from health-care professionals.

Advocate Keith Meldrum of Kelowna, B.C., says he didn't manage his chronic pain well during the first 20 years because of a lack of proper care and understanding of chronic pain from health-care professionals. (Submitted by Keith Meldrum)

"There was a lot of anger — I just felt that the health-care system really didn't care and they weren't trying hard enough, and that anger just fed back into my pain, making it worse," Meldrum said Friday to host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

"In the 80s and early 90s, it was an immense struggle [to live with the pain] because there was just a lot of misunderstanding and true ignorance — lack of understanding from the health-care system and the health-care providers on how to effectively help and treat people that have persistent pain."

Meldrum's call for the health-care sector to better understand the psychological impacts of pain is echoed in reports published by the Canadian Pain Task Force, which was established by Health Canada in 2019.

In its final report published this March, the task force recommended health professional associations and regulatory bodies to beef up pain-related education for their members, including pain-related knowledge assessment in health-care practitioner licensure exams.

The Canadian Pain Task Force recommends health professional associations and regulatory bodies to require more education and training for their members around chronic pain. (Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock )

The report also noted that the lack of proper health care and treatment for chronic pain is tied to the opioid overdose crisis. 

The task force's co-chair, Maria Hudspith — who is also the executive director of Pain B.C. Society — says real actions need to be taken to address untreated chronic pain, which she says is linked not only to the overdose crisis, but also to prevalent mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

"People need to know that chronic pain is real," Hudspith said. "For a long time, people who live with chronic pain have experienced invalidation and stigmatization and often being told that the pain is in their head."

Meldrum says he has since developed a better working relationship with his health-care providers to control his pain. He says he continues to wish for a remedy and hopes Canadians will continue to learn more about chronic pain.

"It is not just biological — there are the emotional and psychological and the social components of it," he said.

With files from Daybreak South and Brady Strachan

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