May 31st, 2020

Fewer opioids won’t cure addiction, won’t help pain sufferers: local pain specialist

By GILLIAN SLADE on May 18, 2019.

A local pain specialist says there is a false belief that addiction is related to a specific drug but it has more to do with the life experiences of the person addicted.

“I do not believe reducing opioids in society is going to solve the chronic pain problem and it is not going to solve the illegal drug problem,” said Dr. Gaylord Wardell, anesthesiologist and pain specialist.

There is still the incorrect belief among many that the “hook for addiction” is the “drug” and that if the drug was prohibited there would be an end to addiction, he said.

“All one has to do is read the literature to see the underlying cause of all addiction is adverse life experiences. The drugs have a hook within them but that hook won’t work if the patient has a good life, good security, and good connections with their community.”

There are only two officially trained and designated pain specialists in the province.

“Dan Gray and I are the only two that have certification,” said Wardell.

There are other doctors who, although not “pain specialists,” have experience in treating chronic pain.

Barry Ulmer, executive director for the Chronic Pain Association of Canada, says 50 per cent of doctors treating pain are leaving the field because of “harassment” from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA).

Ulmer believes the College has lost sight of chronic pain patients and questions the appropriateness of the power it has assumed over doctors.

This week it emerged that Dr. Robert Hauptman in Edmonton, who had a clinic of more than 900 patients with chronic pain, had closed the clinic in an agreement with CPSA.

Wardell believes strict monitoring of doctors treating patients with pain has resulted in family doctors simply deciding not to treat them.

“In the last six months I’ve had five patients whose opioids were discontinued by their family doctor,” because of a program the College uses to track exactly what triplicate prescriptions each doctor writes and they are given a report back every three months, said Wardell.

“Doctors hate that. They’re afraid of the College anyway.”

Wardell, who began practising medicine in 1980 in Saskatchewan, says neither the government nor the College has an understanding of the path of physiology and science of chronic pain.

“And guess what? The College has never ever asked my opinion. I am one of two pain specialists in Alberta and certified by the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada and they have never asked me for advice and they never will,” said Wardell.

The backlog of patients waiting to see a pain specialist, or someone capable of treating pain, can be significant.

Medicine Hat Regional Hospital has a pain clinic but in November 2017 it was revealed there was an 18-24 month wait to get in. At that time Alberta Health Services announced it would no longer accept new patients.

Earlier this year the News requested an interview regarding the current state of the hospital pain clinic but that was not granted. Another request was made this week. There has not been a response yet.

In November 2017 an organization called HELP (Helping to Ease Alberta’s Pain) said that year four people dealing with chronic pain died by suicide. This week Ulmer said there were a couple recent cases.

The News requested an interview with Minister of Health Tyler Shandro this week. There has been no response.

Coming up: the News will have a story about medical cannabis in the treatment of chronic pain.

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