The opioid epidemic has been a national crisis for years, with as many as 130 people die in the United States every day from opioid overdoses. While politicians and policymakers have tried to curb opioid use among Americans, their range of strategies have proven largely ineffective. Their primary goal is to restrict how many painkillers a person may take, but the collateral damage of this crackdown are chronic pain patients, many of whom find difficulty being accepted by a new physician if they are already taking prescribed opioid medication.
Although opioid abuse is a rampant epidemic, chronic pain patients face difficulty proving they use their prescribed pills responsibly and are not addicts. A new study released in July 2019 showed that chronic pain patients using prescribed opioids may suffer harmful, potentially deadly consequences when new physicians will not accept them as patients. Data from study showed that more than 40% of doctors’ offices would refuse to take on a new patient who took prescribed opioids for chronic pain management. The unintended, tragic consequence of barring chronic patient sufferers from access to primary care means that those who take opioids responsibly have nowhere to turn for medical care. This leaves them in jeopardy of missing out on necessary treatment for chronic medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Ironically, the tactic used to protect people from developing an addiction is, in fact, creating addicts. Chronic pain sufferers who cannot obtain primary care for pain management may resort to potentially deadly means to obtain more pills for pain relief. The unintended consequence of being rejected from a new physician’s practice is that the very individuals who need pain medication and use it responsibly may start self-medicating with illicit substances to get the relief they crave, and thus, become addicted.
Reasons physicians reject chronic pain patients from their practice may be due to a combination of factors. For example, just as there is a stigma against opioid addicts, there is a stigma against those who suffer from chronic pain, even among physicians. Doctors may also reject new chronic pain patients who take prescribed opioids because of the recent, time-consuming opioid prescription regulations they must comply with, as well as the risk of medical liability.
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