Chronic pain a serious burden on economy

April 10, 2019 BY

MORE than 825,000 Victorians are living with chronic pain and the figure will balloon to more than 1.3 million by 2050 unless action is taken, according to a new report.

Last week, pain advocacy body Painaustralia has launched “The cost of pain in Australia” report, which reveals the significant burden chronic pain places on the lives of Australians, their back pocket, and the economy’s bottom line.

Across the country, 3.24 million people live with chronic pain. The annual cost of chronic pain to taxpayers is $139.3 billon, not including the $2.7 billion paid by people in out of pocket expenses to manage their pain.

“Restricting the activities people can undertake, chronic pain can reduce a person’s ability to work, disturb sleep and cause fatigue, and have a detrimental impact on relationships,” Paindaustralia director Associate Professor Malcolm Hogg said.

“This is why the impact of pain is so great, not just in dollar terms, but in lost potential, to contribute, to participate. The rising rate of deaths associated with prescription opioids is just one indicator that we aren’t dealing with chronic pain well in this country.”

The report identified a lack of specialist care and GPs equipped to handle chronic pain meant patients were being overlooked, falling through the cracks in the health system and not receiving the multidisciplinary care considered the standard in pain management.

The report states about one-fifth of all GP presentations in Australia involved chronic pain but referrals to pain specialists occurred in less than 15 per cent of GP consultations where pain is managed.

“There are changes we can put in place that can make a big difference to the lives of so many who live with chronic pain and help to improve how our health system manages pain,” Painaustralia chief executive officer Carol Bennett said.

Painaustralia recommends a $45 million rollout of a pain specialist-designed and led national GP training program, to yield savings of $209 million in overdose-related costs alone; and a $70 million doubling of access to multidisciplinary care to save about $271 million through savings to the health system, absenteeism and overall improved wellbeing.