I am a
Home I AM A Search Login

IASP Curriculum on Pain For Pharmacy



The 2024 Global Year will examine what is known about sex and gender differences in pain perception and modulation and address sex-and gender-related disparities in both the research and treatment of pain.

Learn More >

Please tell us how you plan to use this document by answering two quick questions. This information will help IASP determine how the curricula are being used. Thank you for your support of this effort.
*IASP members: Please log in to answer the survey.
Nonmembers: Please create a web account to answer the survey.

Task Force Members

Chris Herndon (chair), Scott Strassels, Lona Louring Christrup, Gouri Shankar Battacharyya, Andrew Dickman

Outline Summary

Curriculum Content Outline
I. Multidimensional Nature of Pain
II. Pain Assessment and Management
III. Management of Pain
IV. Clinical Conditions


The widespread prevalence of pain demonstrates the need for comprehensive pain education for all health-care professionals. Yet not all require the same type of pain-related knowledge and skills. IASP encourages all programs in pharmacy to utilize the following curriculum outline to embed pain education and training. As with other health professions, an objective of curricula is to instill the knowledge and skills necessary to advance the science and management of pain as part of an interprofessional team. The desired outcomes of education emphasize critical competencies that support the humanistic aspects of health care and the learner’s capacity to carry out tasks successfully in the real world. The fundamental concepts and complexity of pain include how pain is observed and assessed, collaborative approaches to treatment options, and application of pain competencies across the lifespan in the context of various settings, populations, and care-team models.

Every pharmacist should be able to assess and manage pain, with particular focus on pharmacological interventions. This curriculum is intended to provide the optimal level of education on pain, its assessment, and management for entry-level pharmacists throughout the world.

As medication experts, pharmacists have a vital role in ensuring safe and effective pain management, as they are often the first point of contact for patients seeking nonprescription analgesics and advice regarding prescription analgesics. The central role and responsibility of the pharmacist in helping to manage pain is in promoting the safe and effective use of analgesic medicines. In order to do this, pharmacists are required to understand the epidemiology of pain, pain mechanisms, frequently encountered pain conditions, variables that influence the patients’ perception of and response to pain, valid and reliable methods of clinical pain assessment, and both pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods for achieving pain relief.


The following principles guide the pain curriculum for the entry-level pharmacist:

  1. Pain is multidimensional with physical, psychosocial, behavioral, spiritual, and genetic variables.
  2. Patients have the right to safe and effective pain control.
  3. Pharmacists are an integral and accountable part of the care of the patient in pain


Pharmacists, upon completion of a program following this recommended curriculum, will be able to:

  1. Describe neurophysiology as it relates to normal sensory transmission
  2. Explain the pathogenesis of pain, including hyperalgesia, peripheral sensitization, and central sensitization
  3. Classify pain syndromes (e.g., acute, subacute, chronic, nociceptive, nociplastic, neuropathic, inflammatory, central, or mixed)
  4. Possess current and sufficient understanding of the pharmacology of non-opioid, adjuvant, and opioid analgesics at a level to provide instruction to the patient and other members of the health-care team
  5. Recommend evidence-based use of rational pharmacotherapy for individual pain syndromes based on patient-specific, drug-specific, and environmental-specific variables
  6. Contribute to the assessment of the patient in pain, including unidimensional and multidimensional rating scales, patient interviews, and limited physical assessment, where applicable
  7. Participate in the goal-setting and ongoing education of the patient with pain
  8. Provide assistance in the overall risk-avoidance plan when opioids are used for pain control
  9. Understand and assume an active role within the interdisciplinary team

Curriculum Content Outline

  1. Multidimensional Nature of Pain
    1. Definitions of Pain
      1. Types of pain
        1. Acute pain
        2. Persistent (chronic) pain
        3. Cancer pain
        4. Breakthrough or episodic pain
      2. International Association for the Study of Pain nomenclature
      3. Hyperalgesia, hypoesthesia, paresthesia, allodynia, analgesia, dysesthesia, hyperesthesia
    2. Epidemiology of pain
      1. Overview of acute, cancer pain, and persistent non-cancer pain
    3. Multidimensional nature of pain (physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional) and ‘total’ pain
    4. Impact of unrelieved pain
      1. Physiological benefit of acute pain and lack of survival benefit for persistent pain
      2. Influence on inadequate acute pain relief on the development of persistent pain
      3. Impact of persistent cancer and non-cancer pain on:
        1. The individual (e.g., physical, psychosocial, spiritual, vocational, socioeconomic)
        2. The family (e.g., roles, relationships, psychological concerns, socioeconomic factors)
        3. Society (e.g., cost, lost productivity)
      4. Pain as a public health issue
      5. Neuroanatomy relevant to nociception and pain
        1. Transduction
          1. Primary afferent neurons (types, characteristics, excitation, terminal sites)
        2. Transmission
          1. Temporal summation, peripheral sensitization, central sensitization
          2. Excitatory pre- synaptic and post-synaptic potentials
          3. Second-order neurons and synaptic junctions
          4. Rexed Laminae, physiology, and synaptic transmission in the dorsal horn
        3. Modulation
          1. Descending excitatory and inhibitory pathways
          2. Excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters
        4. Perception
          1. Thalamocortical pain signaling
        5. Theories of pain control
          1. Gate control theory
          2. Neuroplasticity and the neuromatrix
      6. Pharmacology of nociception and pain transmission
        1. Peripheral mechanisms
          1. Chemical mediators and relevant neurotransmitters
          2. Inflammatory mediators
          3. Voltage dependent calcium and sodium channels
        2. Central mechanisms
          1. Role of NMDA in wind-up
        3. Relationship and differences between pain etiology (i.e., tissue damage, inflammation, nerve damage)
        4. Receptors and neurotransmitters and in pain modulation
          1. Alpha-2 adrenoceptor
          2. Relevant 5-HT receptors
          3. Opioid receptor subtypes and associated physiologic effects
            1. Opioid-agonist, partial-agonist, agonist-antagonist, antagonists
            2. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics based on receptor affinities
            3. Opioid-induced hyperalgesia
          4. Cannabinoid receptors
      7. Psychological and Behavioral Issues
        1. Influence of affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes on pain and the biopsychosocial model of pain
        2. Effects of comorbid psychiatric (depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.) and psychological (personality disorders) diagnoses on pain perception
        3. Effects of emotional and spiritual stressors on pain perception
        4. Pain catastrophizing, dual-dependence, secondary gain, and self-efficacy
        5. Dependence, tolerance, addiction and pseudo-addiction
        6. Substance use disorder, substance misuse, aberrant drug behaviors
        7. Drug adherence/persistence and risk of aberrant behaviors
        8. Latrogenic drug addiction
        9. Disparities in the expression and management of pain
        10. Effect of culture on pain
        11. Health-care provider influence on pain, compliance/persistence with treatments and outcomes
      8. Ethical Issues
        1. Pain as a violation of ethical principles
        2. Pain relief as a human right
        3. Concepts of opioid physical dependence, psychological dependence, pseudo-addiction, tolerance, and habituation
        4. Awareness of consensus definitions issued by pain organizations
        5. Opioid availability as a human rights imperative
        6. Controversies around euthanasia and pain relief in terminally ill patients and terminal sedation
        7. Controversies surrounding physician-assisted dying
      9. Research design
        1. Design and evaluation of analgesic drug studies
          1. Randomized controlled trials, placebo versus active comparator, availability of rescue medication
          2. Other designs (cohort, case-control, etc.)
          3. Efficacy versus effectiveness trials
          4. Non-pain endpoints (including SPID and related time-intensity composites, physical, psychological, and social functioning, HRQL, costs, adverse events)
          5. Placebo response in clinical trials
        2. Methodology recommended by IMMPACT and other consensus statements or guidelines
        3. Time-pain intensity composites (SPID, etc.), especially in acute pain studies
        4. Clinically important compared with statistically significant differences
  2. Pain Assessment and Measurement
    1. Measurement, quantification, and recording of pain intensity and pain relief
    2. Pain assessment tools
      1. Unidimensional pain scales, such as visual analogue scales, numerical ratings scales, categorical rating scales
      2. Multidimensional pain scales, such as McGill Pain Questionnaire, Brief Pain Inventory, Neuropathic Pain Scale, and PainDetect
      3. Assessment of psychological comorbidities, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Beck Depression Inventory
      4. Assessment of generic health-related quality of life (SF-36, etc.) – broad instruments that typically include questions on pain
        1. Assessment of psychological comorbidities, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Beck Depression Inventory
        2. Improved activity and functional goals as outcome measures
        3. Self-report, such as use of a pain diary and problems associated with observer-assessed pain
        4. Pain as an adverse event
  3. Management of Pain
    1. Pharmacological interventions for pain
      1. The following areas to be covered for each drug or drug class:
        1. Mechanism of pharmacological action
        2. Relevant medicinal chemistry
        3. Relevant pharmaceutics and formulation science, including ROOs and depo formulations
        4. Routes of administration
        5. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, including mechanisms of toxicity, where appropriate
        6. Adverse effects and their management
        7. Drug-drug interactions and drug-food supplement interactions
        8. Clinical uses
        9. Patient counseling regarding appropriate use
          1. Acetaminophen (paracetamol)
          2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and coxibs
          3. Opioids
          4. Opioid substitution therapy
          5. Tramadol and tapentadol: similarities and differences to opioids
          6. Antidepressants
          7. Anti-epileptics
          8. 5-HT1 agonists (triptans)
          9. Local anesthetics
          10. Capsaicin
      2. Extemporaneous compounding of dosage forms not available commercially, including uncommon routes of administration and special-need formulations
        1. Assurance of efficacy, effectiveness, bioavailability, safety, stability of extemporaneously compounded drugs
      3. Drug storage requirements for stability and safety
      4. Knowledge of legislation regarding controlled substances, including their legal and safe destruction
      5. Variability of opioid availability for oral and parenteral use due to legal and regulatory restrictions in some countries
    2. Interventional pain management
      1. Anesthetic nerve blocks
      2. Neurolytic blocks
      3. Intrathecal drug delivery
    3. Nonpharmacological approaches to pain
      1. Physical therapy
      2. Psychological and behavioral strategies
      3. Acupuncture and acupressure
      4. Neuromodulation devices, including TENS and spinal cord stimulation
      5. Surgical interventions
      6. Herbal and alternative/complementary therapies
    4. Multimodal and interprofessional pain management
      1. Interdisciplinary approach to pain management
      2. Role of different professions
      3. Role of pain clinics and multidisciplinary pain management centers
      4. Palliative care and role of hospices
      5. Unique contribution of pharmacist
      6. Role of the specialist pharmacist
        1. Teaching
        2. Research
        3. Clinical activities
        4. Advocacy
      7. World Health Organization, International Narcotics Control Board, and other government or nongovernmental organization clinical evidence-based pain-management guidelines
  4. Clinical Conditions
    1. Acute pain
      1. Postoperative pain
      2. Acute pain due to acute medical illness, such as myocardial infarction
      3. Pain in hematological diseases, sickle cell disease, and hemophilia
    2. Persistent non-cancer pain
      1. Musculoskeletal pain, including low back pain, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis
      2. Headache, including tension headache, migraine, medication overuse headache
      3. Neuropathic pain, including diabetic peripheral neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia and acute herpes zoster infection, trigeminal neuralgia, phantom limb pain, and central pain syndromes (e.g., post-stroke pain and multiple sclerosis)
    3. Cancer pain
    4. HIV-associated pain
    5. Painful OTC conditions, including counselling about appropriate analgesic use
    6. Choice of analgesia in renal and hepatic impairment
    7. Pain and analgesia at the extremes of age (neonates, children, and the elderly)
    8. Pain and analgesia in pregnancy, labor, and breast feeding
    9. Pain management in individuals with history of substance use disorder, misuse, or addiction


American Geriatrics Society Panel on Pharmacological Management of Persistent Pain in Older P. Pharmacological management of persistent pain in older persons. J Am Geriatr Soc. Aug 2009;57(8):1331-1346.

Chou R, Fanciullo GJ, Fine PG, et al. Clinical guidelines for the use of chronic opioid therapy in chronic noncancer pain. J Pain. Feb 2009;10(2):113-130.

Dworkin RH, O’Connor AB, Audette J, et al. Recommendations for the pharmacological management of neuropathic pain: an overview and literature update. Mayo Clin Proc. Mar 2010;85(3 Suppl):S3-14.

Vadalouca A, Raptis E, Moka E, et al. Pharmacological Treatment of Neuropathic Cancer Pain: A Comprehensive Review of the Current Literature. Pain Pract. 2011 Jul 2 doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2011.00485.x.

© Copyright 2018 International Association for the Study of Pain. All Rights Reserved. No part of these materials may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the express written permission of the International Association for the Study of Pain. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of these copyrighted materials is illegal and may result in civil or criminal penalties under the U.S. Copyright Act and applicable copyright laws.

Share this