September Is Pain Awareness Month: Time for Pharmacists to Connect with the Community
Having access to a pharmacist can make a difference for any patient struggling with hard-to-treat pain, especially those teetering on the edge of an opioid addiction. September is Pain Awareness Month, a prime time to expand outreach to chronic pain patients and let them know you’re available to help—even if it’s just to talk.
Just be careful to target the individual rather than focusing too much on the theme of “awareness.” Patients living with pain may give a nod to the importance of “raising awareness,” but they don’t have the energy to spare for awareness. They’re desperate for action that gets them closer to solutions and relief.
Rundown on Patient Demographics
Pharmacists don’t need statistics to tell them about the depth of the problem, but it’s still a good idea to start the month with a rundown of the numbers, as published in U.S. Pharmacist in March 2016:1
- 126 million adults—or nearly 56 percent—experience pain.
- 20 percent of them have chronic pain.
- 32 percent report severe pain; 23 percent reported a lot of pain.
Now, stop to consider how pain drains a person’s energy and its impact on their quality of life. Nearly two-thirds of adults report pain affects their ability to enjoy daily life, 70 percent have trouble concentrating and 77 percent sink into depression.2 Here’s a closer look at the demographics, so you’ll have a better idea of the type of patient you’re most likely to encounter:
- Lower back pain and chronic joint symptoms account for 55 percent of all cases.
- Migraines or severe headaches are responsible for 15 percent of pain cases—women have double the risk of headaches compared to men.
- Women are more likely than men to have pain across all age groups until the age of 75.
- Sleep disturbance is reported by 86 percent of adults with pain.
Pain Awareness Month Ideas for Pharmacists
While it’s obviously important to counsel patients receiving prescription pain drugs, it’s also essential to target patients buying over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Your intervention increases their chance for timely and optimal pain relief, which in turn lowers their risk of central sensitization. Begin by putting up notices throughout the pharmacy and telling patients you’re a medication advocate available to help them find pain relief. Then, include these topics in a special display or when you have the chance to talk with patients:
Medication therapy management (MTM): Most patients don’t know all the benefits of MTM services. They typically encounter busy pharmacy staff who ask if they have any questions while ringing up the transaction and handing over the medication. Patients seldom interact at the check-out with someone who slows down for a moment and says, “Our pharmacist offers free medication management and can answer your questions about pain relief.” Create a handout that lists MTM services and give it to patients buying pain relief medications.
Nonpharmacological and complementary therapies: Medication is an important part of pain management, but patients also achieve significant pain relief from exercise. Encourage them to pursue activities, but suggest they consult with a physical therapist, who will develop a program that’s safe for the underlying health condition.
In September 2016, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health released the results of a systematic review evaluating complementary therapies for pain relief. They found that the following were safe and effective:
- Yoga and acupuncture for back pain.
- Acupuncture and tai chi for knee osteoarthritis.
- Adequate doses of massage therapy provided short-term neck pain relief.
- Severe headaches and migraines were relieved with relaxation techniques.3
An earlier study also reported some pain relief success using techniques such as biofeedback, guided imagery, relaxation training and mindfulness meditation.4
Topical pain relief: Talk to patients about the benefits of temporary relief from topical products, which make it easier to exercise and may improve their ability to sleep. You may want to recommend topical diclofenac or products that mix capsaicin, methyl salicylate and menthol.
Safety of OTC pain relievers: Even though OTC medications carry warnings about adverse effects to the heart, liver and gastrointestinal tract, there’s still a tendency for patients to think that “over-the-counter” is a synonym for “safe.” They’re also more likely to ignore warnings when they’re desperate to relieve pain. When you create an MTM handout, be sure to mention that not all OTC products are appropriate—certain types of pain respond better to specific medications—and that you’ll make recommendations during a medication review. Also, put up a poster about OTC pain relief and invite them to talk with the pharmacist.
Pain assessment: Patients that haven’t consulted a healthcare professional depend on pharmacists to assess pain and recommend the appropriate OTC treatment—or referral to a doctor. The American Chronic Pain Association provides a variety of downloadable scales to use for evaluating pain.5 The American Pharmacists Association also offers an algorithm for assessing pain complaints.6
Collaborate with the Healthcare Community to Support Patients
While you can spearhead a larger community event for Pain Awareness Month—or volunteer to join one already in the works—it’s worth repeating the caution to focus on helping individuals rather than making a big show of boosting awareness. Collaborate with diverse professionals who specialize in pain management and you create a team that truly supports patients needing better pain relief. Create a media event and you may shut out patients who need help but don’t want to feel like poster people for an awareness campaign. They’re acutely aware of their pain every day—they need to know your support is there for the long haul and not just for an awareness event.
Pharmaceutica North America helps patients find pain relief through a variety of prescription drug products, bulk APIs and OTC topical supplements. Contact us today to talk about how we can support your pharmaceutical needs.
- “Trends in Pain Prevalence,” March 2016, https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/trends-in-pain-prevalence ↩
- “AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain,” accessed September 2016, http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx ↩
- “NIH Study Gives Primary Care Docs Needed Evidence to Complement Chronic Pain Treatments,” September 2016, http://nationalpainreport.com/nih-study-gives-primary-care-docs-needed-evidence-to-complement-chronic-pain-treatments-8831348.html ↩
- “Guided Imagery, Mindful Meditation, and Hypnosis for Pain Management,” October 2015, http://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/treatments/complementary/biobehavioral/guided-imagery-mindful-meditation-hypnosis-pain-management ↩
- “Taking Care: The Pharmacists Role in Caring for Patients With Pain,” 2015, https://www.pharmacist.com/sites/default/files/files/Taking%20Care%20The%20Pharmacist’s%20Role%20in%20Caring%20for%20Patients%20with%20Pain_Toolkit.pdf ↩
- “OTC Oral Analgesic Selection and Patient Education,” 2015, http://pharmacist.com/sites/default/files/files/15-183_PainReliefBrief_FINAL%20with%20SME%20statement%20070215.pdf ↩