Because of the opioid epidemic chronic pain is something of a hot topic these days. However, in these discussions the lives of people who live in constant pain are often overlooked. This is because the medical system is set up to fail people with chronic pain. Here’s just some of the ways the medical system leaves people in pain behind:
Pain is no longer considered debilitating, even if it is
Once upon a time living in constant pain was considered a bad thing and doctors did their best to help patients manage their pain. With the rise of the obsession with the opioid crisis pain is no longer considered a factor in healthcare. There’s been a steep rise of doctors touting the pain acceptance movement, despite the fact that long term pain has serious side effects. Many doctors no longer acknowledge that chronic pain can stop someone from living a normal life.
People in pain are treated like addicts
Because pain can no longer be debilitating, people who have chronic pain must be addicts. Anyone who dares to ask for pain medication is almost immediately flagged as an addict, no matter how much evidence there is of a condition.
I personally live with chronic kidney stones as well as chronic pain. I get stones about 6 times a year and they are brutal. I thought that having a provable condition would mean I wouldn’t be labeled an addict. At one time kidney stones would have been considered a condition that needed pain treatment (everyone knows how painful kidney stones are). This is not the case any longer. People with kidney stones are now officially classified as addicts. My kidney stones have caused my pain levels to go so high that I couldn’t stop vomiting, and a doctor told me right to my face that I needed to calm down because I wasn’t going to get any pain medication from him. Don’t believe me? Join any kidney stone group and you’ll see that my experience is almost universal. Pain medication is a rarity.
When people in pain are denied pain medication they are not provided with alternatives
As mentioned previously, pain medication is no longer considered an answer to pain. Instead people are told to accept their pain or take Tylenol. This advice ignores the daily reality of living with pain. Tylenol works for very few people, and is also dangerous in large doses.
Some other alternatives suggested for pain are financially out of reach for most people. Options such as massage and acupuncture are great in theory, but they are not covered by most insurance. Other suggestions such as spinal cord stimulation involve serious and expensive surgery, which is an extreme option that many patients will not be able to explore. Pain relief devices are also financially out of reach for many when you consider the alternative is a $3 a month prescription.
People in pain are forced to bounce from doctor to doctor with no one to coordinate their care
Finding answers when you have chronic pain is an infuriating process. Oftentimes the pain involves the whole body, and yet doctors are divided up into very specific specialties. Which means there is no one to look at the bigger picture to find the whole problem. This makes getting an actual diagnosis very difficult.
Additionally, the patient is forced to coordinate their care between all this doctors, and that is a difficult thing to do. These days pain patients even have to add pain management specialist to the regular cue, because many regular doctors won’t treat pain. So the sick, hurting, miserable patient has to spend hours on the phone coordinating, and then tromp to multiple doctors offices in order to get basic care.
Doctors don’t want to treat someone whose illness never goes away
People like easy answers with easy solutions, and doctors are no different. Chronic pain is long term and complicated, which means that patients with chronic pain are often labeled as “difficult.” Dealing with pain requires a lot of experimentation and individual adaptation, and doctors just don’t have time to do these things. The way that insurance pays out discourages doctors from spending more than 15 minutes on a patient, and chronic pain cannot be dealt with in 15 minutes.
The mental and emotional toll of being in constant pain is continually ignored
Mental health is frequently tied to physical health by doctors, but in most cases it is used as an accusation that the person in pain is just imagining it. What is regularly ignored is the mental and emotional toll chronic pain leaves on a person. Being in pain is not easy, and it’s even harder when everyone says you’re faking and you aren’t receiving quality medical care.
We don’t know how many suicides are related to untreated chronic pain, but since the CDC has cracked down on opioids there have many many stories of people ending their lives because of pain. A few years down the road we may have a clearer picture of the devastating effects. Meanwhile people in chronic pain will keep suffering.