Press Release

Medical Experts to Discuss the Legal, Political and Bioethical Issues of Pain at the San Francisco Medical Society Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003, 5:30 - 7:30 PM

Millions of Americans Suffer Due to Severe Undertreatment of Pain <br> Stigma Surrounding of Opiate Pain Relievers and Lack of Medical Training at Heart of National Controversy

Steve Heilig at (415-561-0870) or Tony Newman at (510-812-3126)
An estimated 30 to 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which research shows is severely undertreated. In the medical community, pain management requires a delicate balance between the desire to heal and the need to work within difficult legal parameters. This is one of the most serious clinical and ethical issues in our healthcare system.

OxyContin, a pharmaceutical with properties similar to morphine, is an example of a prescription pain management drug that has been misused, making it more difficult to obtain by patients who genuinely need palliative care. Doctors grow more wary and cautious of prescribing effective painkillers for fear the drugs could be misused, and as a result patients suffer without adequate care.

Pain management, including that which is associated with terminal illness and the end of life, remains a controversial medical, legal and political issue. The San Francisco Medical Society and the Drug Policy Alliance will present and discuss these topics in the forum "The Politics of Pain." The forum is free to the public.

WHEN: January 15, 2003, 5:30 - 7:30 PM
WHERE: San Francisco Medical Society
1409 Sutter Street (at Franklin,) San Francisco

    Chief, Pain Consultation Clinic and Chair, Ethics Committee, San Francisco General Hospital
    Associate Professor of Bioethics, University of California, Davis
    Founder and President, Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinics
    Executive Director, The National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain.
  • STEVE HEILIG, MPH, Moderator
    Director of Public Health and Education, San Francisco Medical Society
The lack of extensive medical training about pain and fear of prescription drug abuse lies at the heart of the undertreatment of pain. Medical education has traditionally spent little time addressing pain and pain treatment. Pain specialty is still only a small field. Only recently was pain recognized as the "fifth" vital sign in medical examinations.

Though pain patients are no more likely to become addicted than the general population, fear of addiction and stigma surrounding opiates, the safest and most effective pain relievers, deters doctors from prescribing, and patients from using, such drugs. Misunderstanding the difference between tolerance and addiction further creates stigma in the public mind. The media attention given to a small number of abusers and physicians who over-prescribe has also tainted the view of opiate pain medication.

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