The impact of pain on rural and regional Australia: problems and solutions

The impact of pain on rural and regional Australia: problems and solutions Conference Paper

15th National Rural Health Conference: Better together!

  • Author(s): Bennett, Carol
  • Secondary Author(s): Coleman, Leanne
  • Published: 2019

Abstract: Ongoing chronic pain is an epidemic in Australia. One in five people are living with chronic pain and this number rises to one in three over the age of 65. People with chronic pain have the greatest levels of disability in our community. It is the leading cause of early retirement from the workforce, with back problems and arthritis accounting for around forty per cent of forced retirements. The level of workforce participation in people with chronic pain could be as low as nineteen per cent. The estimated cost of chronic pain, calculated over a decade ago, was thirty four billion per year. Untreated chronic pain also has profound consequences in every area of life, commonly resulting in decreased enjoyment of normal activities, loss of function, role change and relationship difficulties, and these experiences can exacerbate feelings of isolation and stigmatisation. It can also severely impact mental health, with over a quarter of adults with severe or very severe pain experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress. While a quarter of Australians live with chronic pain, data also tells us that this burden is disproportionately harder to bear in rural and remote areas of our country. Recent data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that people living in our rural regions are also more likely to misuse pharmaceuticals, with use of opioid analgesics nearly twice as high as in major cities. This is consistent with data from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program reported higher levels of drugs in regional areas than capital city areas. Much of this use is likely to be related to initial management of chronic pain conditions. While it is well known that pain management services along with pain specialists and allied health professionals trained in pain management are limited in rural and remote Australia, there needs to be broader recognition of the fact that these access issues often delay treatment and therefore increase levels of disability and reduce capacity to return-to-work while impacting quality of life. Our presentation will discuss the development of the National Action Plan on Pain management, in particular highlighting our priorities to improve timely access to appropriate pain management strategies for all Australians. We will discuss new research on the economic burden of pain findings in regional and rural Australia and provide an overview of how this epidemic can be more effectively managed in regional centres.

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Suggested Citation
Bennett, Carol, 2019, The impact of pain on rural and regional Australia: problems and solutions, Conference Paper, viewed 07 December 2021,

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