The under treatment of pain in Canada leads us to refer to it as the silent epidemic, others have called it a pandemic. This poignantly conveys the magnitude and overall lack of understanding of this debilitating, life-altering disease.

"People in pain are denigrated, marginalized, stigmatized, and forgotten with many being referred to as drug addicts."

A large portion of the Canadian population suffers from pain; pain is the most common reason people seek health care. Each year an estimated 7.5 million Canadians suffer chronic pain and millions more experience acute pain due to injury or surgery. Chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability, and as we age the number of us who will require treatment grows. Research tells us pain affects more people than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Yet there is ample evidence pain continues to be mistreated, misunderstood, and maligned as not being real.

People in pain are denigrated, marginalized, stigmatized, and forgotten with many being referred to as drug addicts. To complicate the problem medical professionals are ill-equipped to treat people in pain, simply because they receive little training about it during their medical careers. In fact, veterinary medicine students receive an average of 98 hours of pain education; medical schools teach an average of 16 hours, with a range of 0–38 hours for medical students. Research in this area is as dismal, a 2009 study for the Canadian Pain Society found while total spending on research and development in the health field was $6.3 billion in 2007, only about $16.2 million of that (or 0.25 percent) was spent on pain research.

Stopping the stigma

Even more disturbing, over the past few years there appears to be an organized campaign against the use of strong analgesics or painkillers, even though it is well documented the use of these medications to relieve pain for a number of individuals is considered an acceptable method of treatment and follows the basic tenets of the Declaration of Montréal, the International Association for the Study of Pain, and the Canadian Pain Society. The argument against analgesics is based on studies using data mining, data dredging, and other unverifiable information.

The researchers it has been put forth by have coloured the entire field of pain medicine — further stigmatizing pain sufferers. Relying on stereotypes that colour thinking is not good medicine. Unfortunately, these perceptions about patients with chronic pain are particularly widespread. The head in the sand approach to pain management must change and we would encourage everyone affected by pain (families, friends, co-workers) to speak up.