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Chronic pain sufferers may turn to the street to find opioids if doctors don't prescribe them: Pain BC

Last Updated Jul 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm PDT

(iStock Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The public health emergency declared over the number of opioid overdoses in BC should lead to more help for people at risk of overdosing, but it may also be hurting one segment of the population. A group which supports chronic pain sufferers is worried more of its members are having to turn to street drugs.

It’s estimated one in five people in BC suffer from some form of chronic pain. For some, the pain can be so bad that they’re unable to function without help.

Maria Hudspith is the executive director of Pain BC, a non-profit group made up of people in pain, academics, health care providers, government and business leaders. She says the go-to solution for doctors has been writing a prescription, but her group is noticing doctors are becoming more reluctant to prescribe opioid.

“Because of the overdose issue and very legitimate concerns about over-prescribing of opioids, there has become a chill on the whole issue of prescribing and many physicians are reluctant to prescribe opioids.”

Some people who are used to taking opioids are instead buying them on the street. It’s a risky move because a pill which might be being sold as oxycodone may actually be fentanyl, which is much stronger. That can cause someone taking it to overdose accidentally.

There are several other tools which can be used to treat chronic pain. Hudspith says the problem is a lot of chronic pain sufferers can’t get access to other help like physio or counseling.

“It’s fine to say to people you need physical therapy, you need some psychological support. But then, when patients go to find that, they either have no extended health coverage for that or they can’t find a practitioner with the skills in chronic pain in their community. What is available to them is medication.”

Hudspith believes this is uncovering a shortcoming in our healthcare system when it comes to managing chronic pain. Some of these people can’t function without these medications so telling them to stop taking the meds without another way to relieve the pain is not realistic.

It comes done to a lack of funding and will from government according to Hudspith. She says the handful of publically-funded, specialized pain programs in BC are not enough. She says even if a patient lives close enough to attend one, the wait list to get in can be years long.

Hudpsith says Ontario’s Ministry of Health just provided $15-million in per year funding for a huge expansion of pain programs. She says this shows Ontario is recognizing medication is one part of treating pain. She says it’s unfair to blame doctors for over-prescribing when they really have little else to suggest to their patients.

The BC government announced today it will contribute $50-thousand for a Provincial Pain Summit where stakeholders can hash out ways to make this system better. Pain BC had one back in 20111. The second summit will take place early next year. The province is also touting its “Live Plan Be” website where chronic pain sufferers can learn how to self-manage their symptoms.