More than 6.9 million Australians live with a musculoskeletal condition, and around 81,200 Australians visit their GP everyday for a pain-related issue.
According to Painaustralia – the national peak body working to improve the quality of life of people living with pain – there has been a rise in opioid prescriptions for treating pain, increasing by 24% between 2010-11 and 2014-15.
The recognition of the need to tackle opioid addiction is something that has been widely accepted by state and federal government.
However, concerns have been raised over the government’s plans to limit chronic pain management options through the new private health insurance categorisation reforms. Under new categorisations – gold, silver, bronze and basic – chronic pain therapies would only be available for consumers who can afford to be on the highest ‘gold’ level category.
It would mean any moves to limit access to therapies such as spinal cord stimulators for the management of chronic pain would work against any efforts to arrest the increasing opioid dependency among chronic pain sufferers.
Current spinal cord stimulators use novel waveforms that are paraesthesia-free, meaning patients can drive and sleep with the therapy. This has led to improvements in quality of life measures.
A January 2017 study, sponsored by MedTech innovator Abbott, found average daily opiod use declined or stabilised for 70 percent of chronic pain patients who receive a stimulator, compared to opioid use before the implant.
Restricting insurance coverage for proven chronic pain therapies will undermine the value of private health insurance for consumers, as well as push the issue of chronic pain down the track.
Painaustralia has developed a National Pain Strategy to serve as a framework for best practice pain management. The Strategy has been given broad endorsement by an eminent group of experts from pain medicine, allied health, drug and addition medicine, mental health, rural health, general practice, pharmacy and rheumatology, as well as consumers.
Painaustralia CEO, Carol Bennett said the issue was attracting bipartisan support from both the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt MP, and the opposition’s health spokesperson, Catherine King MP.
“There has been unprecedented level of support for the issue of chronic pain in Australia recently, and we appreciate the support of the Australian Government”, Ms Bennett said.
“This long misunderstood and neglected health issue is now receiving the attention it deserves from all sides of politics, a positive move towards ensuring the best possible outcomes for individuals, families, communities, workplaces, as well as the Australian economy.”