Everyone has heard about the huge number of people in the US dying from opioid overdoses and struggling against addiction to opioids. The immediate reaction was to make it extremely hard or impossible for anyone to obtain opioids. However, this response overlooks the huge problem of people who suffer from chronic pain and are dependent on opioid access to go about their lives.
The scope of the problem
An estimated 20% of adults in the US suffer from chronic pain that limits their activities and around 8% suffer from high-impact chronic pain that essentially prevents them from going about their lives without treatment. Chronic pain is caused by many different conditions, such as:
- Nerve damage
- Injuries that did not heal properly
- Back pain
Impact of the opioid crisis on patients in pain
Doctors are becoming increasingly reluctant to prescribe opioids to patients, even if the patient is clearly indicated to receive such a prescription. Although most patients prescribed opioids for a clear pain indication use them as directed and don’t become addicted, around 20% do go on to misuse them and among these, around half will go on to develop a full-blown opioid addiction. Doctors are often blamed for these outcomes, and thus many doctors are under-treating their patients’ pain or refusing to treat individuals with chronic pain and sending them to pain management clinics for pain treatment.
It may not sound like a bad thing to be referred to a pain management clinic, but many individuals with chronic pain already struggle with finding the energy, time, and money to manage the symptoms and treatment of their condition, and having to go to yet another medical provider to treat just their pain can become extremely burdensome.
The laws restricting access to opioid prescriptions can also become extremely burdensome. Although the laws vary a bit from state to state, unlike most prescriptions that only require a single doctor consult per year in order to obtain a prescription for a year’s supply of the drug, chronic pain patients struggling to obtain both prescriptions and their medications, and if they are lucky enough to find a doctor willing to prescribe, they have to get a new prescription every 30 days, which typically requires a monthly doctor’s visit. Many pharmacies are refusing to dispense more than a few days’ supply of pills at a time. Many doctors are refusing to write prescriptions, or are forcing their patients to rapidly reduce their usual dose of medication. And as a consequence many patients denied their medication are in agony and have considered or actually turned to suicide.