Warrnambool physiotherapist Adrian Benson believes more people will face addiction and death from opioids unless better pain management is introduced in the city.
He said almost 100 per cent of his patients had been prescribed prescription opioids before attending the chronic pain rehabilitation program where he works at St John of God Hospital.
“We need more access to pain management services and alternative treatments,” he said. “Particularly in regional areas.
“More than an hour travel in the car can be very difficult for patients with chronic pain, and the closest public pain clinics to Warrnambool are in Geelong, Adelaide and Melbourne.”
In 2017, 414 Victorians lost their lives to prescription medication overdoses.
Mr Benson said he hoped the introduction of the Victorian government’s real-time prescription monitoring system, SafeScript, would encourage patients with persistent pain to seek out other alternatives.
“People often see referral to pain clinics as a last resort but education and information needs to be the first step,” he said.
“It’s about empowering people and helping them understand why they’re experiencing pain, particularly when their initial physical injury has already healed.
“When we teach people strategies to help manage that, we can see big changes.”
Mr Benson said it was common for his patients to rely on medication.
“One of my patients, for example, was reliant on medication and didn’t believe he would ever work again due to his injury,” he said.
“He still deals with pain on a daily basis but after learning new strategies he has a toolkit to help manage it, and he was able to get back to work again.”
SafeScript was launched in the Western Victoria PHN region earlier this month and will be rolled out across Victoria early next year in response to alarming increases in overdose deaths due to prescription medications.
Prescription opioids, recommended for use in the short term to treat moderate to severe pain after surgery or an injury, are the largest contributor to overdose fatalities.
“Pharmaceutical companies originally told all the doctors these medications were non-addictive but that’s not the case,” he said.
“It’s actually quite common to become dependent on these medications if they’re used regularly or for a long time.
“The good news is that there are alternative treatments available.”
Megan Newcomb from the not-for-profit advocacy organisation ScriptWise, said community members who were concerned about their medication use should start a conversation with their doctor.
“We know that opioid pain medications aren’t the silver bullet in chronic pain management and that alternative strategies can provide safer and more effective pain relief,” she said.
“It shouldn’t matter where you live, the risks of reliance on opioids are too high.
“We need urgent investment in pain services, particularly in regional areas.”
If you’re concerned about your medication use, call the SafeScript Pharmaceutical Helpline 1800 737 233.
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