Pain is an important tool for our body to tell us when something is wrong, but long after the message has been received, it can stick around and make life intolerable. For many, effective pain relief is the single hurdle standing between an enjoyable life and an unbearable one.

“We live in a society where there are many people living every day with pain, and we need to be focused on helping them,” says Minister of Health Jane Philpott. “We need a comprehensive response to pain management that includes multiple levels of government as well as health care providers.”

The complexities of pain

Unfortunately, many varieties of pain are still poorly understood — the causes varied, and the most common treatments only intermittently effective. With a growing opioid crisis killing over six Canadians a day from overdoses of drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl, building a safe and responsible pain relief strategy is of paramount importance.

That strategy, however, cannot be as simple as heavy-handedly limiting access to opioids. “One of the challenges related to the opioid crisis is that we are seeing significant harm surrounding opioid use in the form of addiction and overdose,” says Minister Philpott.  “But at the same time, these are also substances with an important therapeutic role in pain management that do need to be available to Canadians.”

The fundamental goal must be to provide pain relief for those who need it. Rather than taking options away, we must focus on providing new paths forward. “Seeking relief from pain is a natural human choice, but there’s more than one way to provide pain relief,” says Minister Philpott. “We need to recognize that opioids have a role in pain management, but that they are only one option. There are other good pharmaceutical options, and there are also lots of non-drug ways to treat pain, such as physiotherapy and psychotherapy, that need to be part of our strategy.”

Pain relief is about people

For too many Canadians, pain is a daily part of life that brings with it many challenges. While we seek to make effective pain relief accessible, we must also remember that preventing pain is much better than treating it. In a recent opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, Minister Philpott upheld: “To really solve this crisis, we must look to its roots... for many, the pain that leads to substance abuse is not as simple as a broken limb or postoperative wounds. Very often, social isolation and trauma are at the core of problematic substance abuse.”

A successful pan-Canadian pain management strategy must be comprehensive and compassionate. By keeping the humanity of those suffering from chronic pain front and centre while also focusing on pain prevention, we can help all Canadians live healthy, happy, and rewarding lives.