University of Sydney pain researcher Professor Fiona Blyth AM has been awarded a project grant of more than $500,000 from the Federal Government to investigate how to reduce the risk of people developing chronic pain.
Professor Blyth, a Professor of Public Health and Pain Medicine at University of Sydney, will investigate how patient pain can be better managed in the primary care setting, so it does not get to a point where it becomes chronic and interferes with quality of life or requires treatment with opioids.
The grant is part of a $10 million plan which focuses on preventing disease and keeping people out of hospital, with this project being one of the first investments under the Medical Research Future Fund in the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre.
Chronic pain is a growing health issue, with one in five Australians living with chronic pain. This prevalence is expected to increase as Australia’s population ages – by 2050, as many as 5 million people will likely have severe, disabling pain. It is estimated to cost Australia more than $34 billion every year.
“Australia has been at the forefront of pain research and pain management internationally,” said Professor Blyth, who is also Head of the Concord Hospital Clinical School in Sydney Local Health District and an adviser for Pain Australia, the Pain Management and Research Institute and the Sax Institute.
“With this funding we can help improve the early detection and management of problematic pain in primary care, and help GPs and other health providers in their partnership with patients so that patients receive the right treatments at the right time for their individual needs.
“Chronic pain is complex, and is often sustained by unhelpful changes in the central nervous system. The pain results from miscommunication between nerves and the brain, and between different parts of the brain, not by the triggering injury or illness.
“It’s more than a symptom of something else; it’s a chronic condition in its own right and influenced by many different factors including the psychological, social and environmental context of the patient.
“Unfortunately, in Australia the problem remains that most people can’t access specialist pain services or even appropriate community-based services. That’s why it’s essential that we address pain before it becomes chronic or so severe that it interferes with daily life and sends people desperately searching for relief from unproven, ineffective or harmful treatments.
“Preventing the progression from acute to chronic pain is a major public health issue of our time.
“Intervening early and providing people with evidence-based treatment could halve the economic costs of chronic pain, and go some way to ending the risk of opioid tolerance and addiction.
“If pain can be better managed and treated then we will improve the quality of life for thousands of Australians and potentially reduce dependence on medications such as codeine.”