‘They often felt unheard, not believed and stigmatised when visiting their pharmacist.’

People with chronic pain have reported a significant worsening in their relationship with their pharmacist, according to the results of the National Pain Survey 2020

The results of the annual survey conducted by Chronic Pain Australia, which had more than 1200 participants from across the country, have been released to mark National Pain Week (27 July–2 August).

When asked to rate how people felt their pharmacist was managing their pain, the average score was 4/10.

When this same question was asked last year, the average score for pharmacists was 8/10, highlighting a significant 50% decrease in 2020.

The relationship between people living with chronic pain and their GP also declined from 8/10 in 2019 to 5/10 in 2020.

“What we are seeing in this year’s National Pain Survey regarding the relationship deterioration between people living with chronic pain and their GP and pharmacist is very concerning,” said President of Chronic Pain Australia Jarrod McMaugh, who is also a pharmacist.

“It easily demonstrates that healthcare professionals need to improve their approach towards how pain is managed in Australia and importantly, how people in pain are treated.”

People in pain reported in the survey that they often felt unheard, not believed and generally stigmatised when they visited their pharmacist.

Being suspected of being a drug seeker was very commonly reported and may have contributed to the poorer relationships between people in pain and pharmacists, said Chronic Pain Australia.

When asked what they thought was the most important thing a pharmacist should do when treating someone living with chronic pain, people said that they just wanted to be treated better, with kindness, compassion and less suspicion.

Some of the key themes to this question from survey respondents included:

“I am not a drug seeker”

“Don’t treat me with suspicion”

“Do not shame me for needing S8 drugs”

“Don’t discuss my medication needs in front of other customers”

“Don’t assume what I’m saying isn’t true or that the medication I have been prescribed is wrong for me”

“Understand what it’s like for me to live with chronic pain”

“Listen to me and my needs and take me seriously”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted how people in pain manage their conditions and how they interact with healthcare professionals.

“We also can’t underestimate the impact COVID-19 has had on people living with pain and health care professionals. We do note that our survey was open from 1-31 May which was an incredibly pivotal four-week period in Australia’s battle against COVID-19,” said Mr McMaugh.

“It is no surprise to us that the extra pressure and challenges the pandemic has brought with it would also put pressure on the relationships people in pain have with their pharmacist and GP, but it certainly isn’t the only contributing factor leading to the decline in the relationship between people in pain and healthcare professionals.”

More than half of the people surveyed (52%) reported that the way they manage their pain has changed during COVID-19 restrictions and many (69%) have utilised telehealth options during this time.

Meanwhile 41% of survey respondents reported having a disruption to accessing their medication over the last 12 months, with many saying that often their medication was not available or made available to them at their local pharmacy.

Mr McMaugh said the results of this year’s survey should be an opportunity to improve the relationship between people living with pain and health care professionals, thereby improving how pain is managed in Australia.

He added pharmacists along with allied health professionals were essential in managing pain correctly, and the survey results should not be used to demonise healthcare professionals who work with people living with chronic pain.

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  1. John Haberecht

    I’ve experienced such a response myself, (not pain related) though from an assistant, not a pharmacist, at a Highgate Hill (inner Brisbane) pharmacy, so perhaps there was a high population of drug seekers locally. When I handed over a script for Stemetil for my BPV induced nausea I was given a look of absolute disgust and contempt. Unfortunately I was too unwell to challenge but wished later I had!

  2. Giselle

    I had to explain my disability in the street in front of customers at the pharmacy.. zero understanding from my pharmacy that my medications change and can increase when in pain..My pain meds management plan has been monitored and approved by a pain specialist! they keep stating this is the government rules… I’m going to change my scripts and stockpile for major pain episodes.. which I should not have to do!

  3. PeterC

    I don’t seek to defend unacceptable behaviour by health professionals but to understand, look at what has changed: there has been an official crackdown on opioid use and it shows. In my neck of the woods GPs’ ‘opioid awareness’ has tripled and they all feel under increased pressure to deprescribe without necessarily having the skills to do it well, and that is transferring pressure onto us in the pharmacy as well. It has always been the case that a lot of the fallout from what doctors ‘order’ for their patients during consults occurs in the pharmacy, when the reality sets in. What we are seeing more and more often is patients who have ‘agreed’ to something during the medical consult (sometimes a telehealth consult) without fully understanding what they’re agreeing to and ‘the penny drops’ only when the medication is dispensed. Most of the time the dispensing pharmacist has not been included in the deprescribing decision and has to deal with the resulting conflict/angst/meltdown without warning. Everyone is doing their best but situation is one of escalating conflict and anxiety in which even non-opioid-dependent patients get caught up. So the findings are hardly surprising.

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