Pain conference in Missoula June 10-11

MISSOULA – The seventh annual Montana Pain Initiative Conference will draw attendees and presenters from around the state to the University of Montana on Friday and Saturday, June 10-11.

This year’s theme, “Pain is Inevitable; Suffering Is Optional: An Ethical Approach to Managing Pain,” offers continuing education highlighting the complicated dynamics in treating chronic pain.

The conference aims to educate health care providers on best practices. It will feature a patient-centered town hall meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, in the University Center Ballroom that is free and open to the public.

Topics at the conference will cover the different types of pain and how pain is measured, how various health professions address pain and current concepts in pain management, among others. Accordingly, the Montana Pain Initiative looks to educate providers and provide increased clarity surrounding the nuances of chronic pain treatment.

Dr. Jennifer Schneider will open the conference with a keynote address. Schneider, a sufferer of chronic pain and a nationally recognized expert in the management of chronic pain with opioids, will discuss what constitutes pain. Other speakers represent a diverse range of health care topics including nursing, physical therapy, psychology, pharmacy and law.

The conference will work from a model that looks to partner with patients in a collaborative approach to treatment. In a recent interview on NPR, conference chair Dr. Marc Mentel, associate program director for osteopathic curriculum with the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, discussed how education has the potential to reduce over-prescribing in the hopes that patients in need retain access to opiates.

“We should be able to come to that balancing point of making sure patients have access to opiate medications in a way that they’re not being stigmatized or viewed as suspicious for drug seeking,” Mentel said.

The conversation surrounding over-prescribing opiates while maintaining access to pain medication for those in need is a controversial topic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 125 deaths in Montana due to opioid overdose in 2014. The risks associated with using these drugs affect patients and providers alike. Physicians face liability concerns, which can lead to resistance in prescribing opiate medications to patients in desperate need of relief. Lack of access to medications oftentimes serves as an added barrier for those patients who struggle to maintain the functions of daily life caused by uncontrolled pain.

“When speaking of those who are using their prescriptions appropriately, it’s a very small percentage of patients who go on to actually become addicted,” said Tootie Welker, longtime sufferer of chronic pain and former executive director of Sanders County Coalition for Families. “What’s happening with people on opioids is that individuals metabolize them differently. Some people need larger doses to receive the same beneficial effect. The CDC dosage limits are going to curtail those patients from getting adequate dosage for adequate pain relief.”

Various initiatives in the state, including Know Your Dose through the Montana Medical Association, seek to find balance between providing appropriate treatment for patients while protecting them from opioid addiction.

The conference is jointly provided by Western Montana Area Health Education Center and Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.

A full conference agenda is available online at  Interested participants can register online at

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