Furthering Balanced Pain Management: Lessons from EU Advocates

Pain advocates on this side of the Atlantic could learn from our European counterparts when considering how to advance balanced pain management.

This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Societal Impact of Pain Symposium held in Brussels. There, nearly 200 European Union healthcare providers and patient advocates joined members of the EU Parliament to discuss implementing SIP’s Road Map for Action, which seeks to raise awareness about the costs of chronic pain and the need for greater access to pain management.

Pain: European Union vs. United States

I discovered that the pain communities in the EU and the United States have much in common. As in the United States, chronic pain in EU is a prevalent condition that is costly to both the individual and society at large. According to a survey of 46,364 people across 16 European countries:

  • 19% suffer chronic pain (pain for at least 6 months, several times a week, pain intensity)
  • On average, sufferers live with chronic pain for 7 years
  • One third reported that their pain was so severe they could not tolerate any more
  • One in five reported losing a job or have been diagnosed with depression as a result of their pain
  • 36% have inadequate pain control from medication.

The economic toll is staggering. As SIP notes, chronic pain “is one of the major reasons why people leave the labour market prematurely and causes 500 million days of illness per year, costing the European economy more the €34billion.”

But we also differ in some ways. One striking difference was apparent in the discussion of opioids. Given the level of opioid misuse, diversion, addiction and overdose in the United States, domestic pain management discussions often focus solely on opioid policy and regulation. As an American at the SIP meeting, however, I was struck to hear presenters cite the lack of access to opioids as not only a clinical concern, but also a human rights issue.

SIP & the Formula for Advocacy Success

Advocates of balanced pain management can learn much from SIP, particularly in one area: the ability to collaboratively define and pursue specific goals. SIP launched in 2011, and this year more than 160 of EU stakeholder organizations have endorsed its objectives. The level of policymaker attention given to last week’s symposium was a testament to the initiative’s success.

SIP’s formula for success includes:

  1. Stakeholder collaboration
  2. Defining a shared vision
  3. Establishing goals through its “Road Map for Action”
  4. Promoting specific objectives for both the EU and its members states
  5. Assessing progress toward goals.

American advocates would be wise to adopt a similar approach.

Here in the United States, the Alliance for Patient Access is doing just that through its role on the steering committee of the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management. AfPA is pleased to join organizations that represent physicians, allied healthcare professionals, drug manufacturers and patients to promote an alternative to an opioid-only approach. AfBPM’s recent release of the white paper “A Call for Understanding and Greater Access to Balanced Pain Management,” is a step toward defining the necessary vision. The AfBPM Annual Summit, scheduled for December 2016, is an opportunity for stakeholders to promulgate their own roadmap toward balanced pain management.

By following the example of EU pain advocates and their collaboration through efforts like SIP, advocates in the United States too can raise awareness of the impact of chronic pain. Even better, they can further patient access to a more balanced approach to pain management that truly address the societal costs, and the personal toll, of chronic pain.

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