Patient group wary of pain relief changes

·2-min read

Encouraging doctors to deprescribe opiates may leave those without viable treatment alternatives in serious trouble, a leading patient advocate group says.

New standards of care released last month by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care have established a national standard for the prescription of opioid analgesics in emergency departments and after surgery.

Doctors are being encouraged to consider alternatives to prescribing opiates to protect patients from becoming addicted or overdosing.

If opioids are required, they will be asked to create a plan to wean patients off the drugs.

But the Australian Pain Management Association (APMA) says for some patients, taking opioids is the only way they can live a normal life.

"Chronic pain remains poorly managed in Australia and people try what is best for them, and in some cases that is opioids," APMA chief executive Renee Rankin told AAP.

"Our community tells us that taking their prescription opioid medication allows them to function.

"Without this assistance, simple tasks such as hanging the laundry, picking up children, being able to leave the house and maintaining employment become difficult for some people.

"Deprescribing medication and offering no or ineffective alternatives impacts the quality of life of people with persistent pain."

About 2.5 million Australians undergo surgery every year, and 70 per cent of hospitals discharge patients after surgery with opioids "just in case", according to a national survey.

More than three million people are dispensed at least one opioid prescription a year, including oxycodone, morphine, buprenorphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, tapentadol, tramadol or codeine, under various names.

The commission's chief medical officer Anne Duggan says opioid analgesics are effective for pain relief, but care needs to be taken to prevent "short-term use becoming a long-term problem".

Ms Rankin says part of avoiding this problem could be investing in community-based multidisciplinary pain management programs.

"Pain management clinics in Australia are over-subscribed and waiting times are long, and patients in remote and regional areas often can't access them," she says.

Ms Rankin says community programs and services, such as those provided by APMA, "support the social needs of people who are impacted by their ongoing inadequate pain treatment", relieving the burden on health care providers.

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