Pain management: The pharmacist's attitude and desire make a real difference

April 1, 2009

Pharmacists who are motivated to educate themselves about the treatment of chronic pain can relieve suffering and improve lives.

Key Points

Patients are often hesitant to ask their physician additional questions regarding their diagnosis or prescribed medication. So they may feel more comfortable addressing their questions to a pharmacist with whom they already have an established relationship. Therefore, pharmacists play a key role in the education of our patients with chronic pain regarding their sometimes-complex drug regimens. Pharmacists can also assist these patients by helping them understand more about their chronic painful conditions and optimal medical management.

In order to accomplish this goal, however, pharmacists must have a clear understanding of the rationale of analgesic pharmacotherapy; the differences between physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, and addiction; and the etiology and pathophysiology of various chronic painful conditions - most of which are currently lacking in most pharmacy curricula. Pharmacists who are able to effectively improve the care of their chronic pain patients often have a different attitude about their role in their patients' care and about what they feel they can actually do for their patients.

A portion of pharmacists' attitudes can be directly linked to the amount of education and training in chronic pain that they have received. In addition, a desire to learn more about all types of painful conditions and a drive to do more than just correctly fill a prescription for a patient with chronic pain can be invaluable. I find that the pharmacists who are the most effective do have that positive attitude and the desire to do something more for patients - and a concern that goes beyond a pharmacy's closing time or a paycheck.

These individuals stand out from the crowd. They're upbeat and they care. And their caring embraces all their patients, including those with chronic pain. It is because of these two qualities alone that they are successful.

Studies have shown that healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, often are barriers to improving the pain management of their patients primarily because of their lack of pain-management education and their unfounded fears and biases. Pharmacists are currently in a perfect position to take more responsibility for improving the lives of their chronic pain patients and more responsibility for finding appropriate pain-management education for themselves, rather than continuing to perpetuate the same stigmas and biases.

If we, as a profession, adopt a positive attitude and an unswerving desire to do and learn more about how to reduce the pain and suffering of our patients, then someday it might become a reality.