Hispanics and other minorities are more likely to receive poor quality of care for chronic pain. A new survey of Hispanics’ knowledge about chronic pain reveals that, even with the painkiller-related deaths of celebrities such as Prince and Heath Ledger, most know little about chronic pain and its care, leaving them vulnerable to repeat the dangerous painkiller cycle.
“Use of narcotic opioid painkillers is one of the biggest health threats in the nation, and this study demonstrated a major gap in the public’s understanding about this disease that had not been previously recognized,” said lead author Barbara J. Turner, M.D., M.S.Ed., professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is now called UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Turner directs UT Health’s Center for Research to Advance Community Health (ReACH).
The research team conducted a population-based survey representing 8.8 million Hispanic residents of five Southwestern states — California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. The respondents were members of a national online network that is representative of the U.S. population. Adults 35 through 75 years of age who did not have chronic pain completed a Web-based survey about their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about chronic pain.
In response to a question about knowledge about chronic pain, only 12 percent of respondents reported that they knew a lot about it while 24 percent knew nothing and 64 percent knew only a little. The small subset of respondents who replied that they knew a lot had significantly better knowledge about multiple aspects of living with chronic pain including its impact on emotions, daily function, and likelihood of a cure compared respondents who knew nothing or a little. However, that same group of respondents who thought they knew a lot about chronic pain were more likely to incorrectly endorse relying on pain medications to manage this disease.
These data from a multi-state population of Hispanics reveal serious gaps in knowledge about chronic pain including misunderstanding about relying on narcotics to treat the disease. As Dr. Turner explained: “Narcotic pain medications have not been shown to help persons with chronic pain over the long term and cause thousands of Americans to overdose and even die in the U.S. annually. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has emphasized the need to educate the general public about chronic pain, the use of narcotics, and the need to treat this disease with effective non-drug approaches such as exercise, stretching, physical therapy, mindfulness, and yoga to increase function and reduce pain in persons with chronic pain.” This is the first study to reveal poor knowledge about chronic pain in a large population of Americans and reinforces the urgency of launching a broad-based educational campaign about chronic pain and its care.
This study was supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute by grant ME-13035729. Study authors are Barbara J. Turner, Yuanyuan Liang, Natalia Rodriguez, Melissa A. Valerio, Andrea Rochat, Jennifer S. Potter and Paula Winkler.