Science Week Lunchtime Lecture on Painkillers - “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

As part of our Science week activity, Dr Gary Stack Lecturer in the Department of Nursing and Healthcare teamed up with the Midlands Science festival today to give a bite size lunchtime lecture on, “Pain, the good, the bad and the ugly” in the Athlone Library. Gary had a captivated audience during the talk who were engaged in this topical issue of pain, pain relief and the science behind it all. Prior to the event today, we spoke to Dr Gary Stack, to find out more…

Gary, firstly can you give us an insight to your own role and background? What courses do you teach?

I completed my undergraduate degree in pharmacy in Trinity College Dublin in 2006. Following graduation, I worked as a community pharmacist. Practising as a community pharmacist involved more than dispensing medicines to patients. It meant that I was in a position to ensure medicines were being used appropriately to achieve best patient outcomes. While working in the community, I decided to return to Trinity College where I undertook a PhD developing new drugs for the treatment of cancer. This was an area close to my heart and provided me with the opportunity to explore a new facet of healthcare. Following completion of my postgraduate studies, I began working as a lecturer in Athlone Institute of Technology. I teach students on the pharmacy technician, dental nursing, general and psychiatric nursing and pharmaceutical science programmes. This role allows me to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists, and also allows me to pursue my interest in research.

What led you to explore the world of learning about pain management?

Pain is such a broad topic and can range from a tooth-ache to severe and debilitating back pain. As a community pharmacist, I have spent many days helping people to choose the right solution for their symptoms. By understanding more about the science of pain and the medicines we use to treat it, people can be empowered to make better choices for their own healthcare.

Some people take over the counter products such as ibuprofen to treat everyday aches and pains, but how exactly do different classes of pain relievers actually work in the body?

There are a number of over-the-counter products to treat aches and pains. The most common painkillers available without a prescription include: ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory painkiller, which belongs to a class of medicines called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Ibuprofen works by reducing the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that cause pain and inflammation. Aspirin and paracetamol work in a similar way to ibuprofen. Codeine works in a different way and acts in the brain and spinal cord, leading to pain relief. As there are different classes of pain killers, I would recommend that patients always discuss their pain and treatment options with their pharmacist or doctor.

Some painkillers can provide temporary relief for pain, but often use comes with undesirable side-effects -What pain medications are truly addictive?

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a 100% safe medication. Every medicine has its own combination of side effects. Opioids are the class of drugs that have the potential to cause dependence (also known as addiction). Opioids include morphine and the more widely available drug, codeine. While these medications can provide effective pain relief, they should always be used under the supervision of a doctor or pharmacist.

Is it true that we develop a tolerance to pain medication overtime?

It is possible to become tolerant to pain medication overtime. This most commonly occurs with the opioid class of painkillers. This means that a person may find they need to take greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same pain relief. However, patients should never exceed the recommended dosage of any medicine and any changes in dose should always be carried out in consultation with the patient’s doctor or pharmacist.

What can we do to encourage more young people to consider Nursing as a course or future career choice?

It is essential to encourage young people to consider healthcare courses such as Nursing, Pharmacy Technician and Dental Nursing when deciding on their future careers. Working in these professions is incredibly rewarding and essential for the future of the healthcare system. There are a number of ways to attract students into these courses. Firstly, early intervention is essential so that young people are informed about these careers in secondary school. Athlone Institute of Technology promotes long term student recruitment by organising a series of interactive open days, which provides students with a valuable insight into these healthcare courses. Secondly, there is often a perception that nursing and related courses are female-dominated and consequently, male students are sometimes unenthusiastic about joining these professions. By removing this stigma, I’m sure it will encourage more men into nursing and related careers and ensure greater gender balance in the healthcare system of the future.

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