CHRONIC PAIN: Suffering families’ big demand
THE results are in - overwhelmingly Australians wants access to medicinal cannabis.
Chronic Pain Australia had no intention of asking the community their thoughts on the controversial treatment when they conducted research released this week.
But the organisation that helps one in five Australians living with chronic pain was bombarded with responses from people calling for their GPs to be able to easily prescribe it to them to treat their debilitating ailments.
Dr Coralie Wales, president of Chronic Pain Australia, said medicinal cannabis was a common theme in the results, with 75 per cent of people who took part in their annual National Pain Week survey wanting the drug to help treat their pain.
"For many people living with 24/7 pain, current medical options come with side-effects that can be quite disabling in themselves," she said.
"Overwhelmingly they want access to other options.
"Medicinal cannabis represents a new possibility to help treat their chronic pain.
"What we're hearing is that people living with chronic pain want simpler access, without feeling like criminals."
A recent study - the world's longest into cannabis and opioids to treat pain - found that the drug might not actually be as beneficial as people think.
While researchers found most people "perceived it to help", in reality, it didn't really change their level of pain.
However, Dr Wales said such research did not change what Australians were telling them.
Worldwide interest in the area has been growing, particularly for chronic non-cancer pain.
In Australia, one in five GP consultations involve a patient with chronic pain and almost five per cent of patients visiting a GP report severe, disabling chronic pain.
The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia's population ages - from about 3.2 million in 2007 to five million by 2050.
Dr Wales said their survey also found people felt there was a disconnect between themselves and healthcare professionals, and that their pain was not believed or understood by the wider community.
She said that was because pain was often an "invisible illness".
Nearly all respondents said they did not feel that the Australian Government was doing enough to support people living with chronic pain and 86 per cent said they faced stigma or negative attitudes.
They also said seeing health professionals other than their GP was too expensive, and 70 per cent disagreed with the Australian Government's decision to up-schedule codeine.
"People living with chronic pain face a daily battle, fighting physical pain, mental health issues, and the subsequent financial pressures of being unable to work to their full capacity," Dr Coralie Wales said.
"Feeling unsupported by the government, and being discriminated against, judged or not believed by friends, family and work colleagues can make their situation even more difficult to cope with."
This National Pain Week, Chronic Pain Australia is calling on GPs, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to consider the experiences of people living with chronic pain before making changes or moving forward with any policy or treatment initiatives.
They want the government to work with them to identify ways to better assist and improve the lives of the millions of Australians living with chronic pain.