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Chronic pain patients who take opioids are stigmatized: study

WATCH: Many patients who suffer from chronic pain are facing increased stigma when they turn to opioids, according to a new study out of Montreal. As Global's Anne Leclair reports, the study's leading researcher wants doctors and the general public to stop stigmatizing patients.

A new study by researchers at the Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CRCHUM) reveals that the opioid crisis has had a negative impact on patients suffering from chronic pain, an illness that affects one in five Canadians. The study found that restrictive measures and misconceptions have hindered patients.

“These patients are already stigmatized a lot that they don’t want to work, that they’re lazy, so you add on the stigma of taking opioids and it’s really not fair for them,” CRCHUM researcher Manon Choinière said. “They are identified as drug addicts.”

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A total of 1,404 chronic pain patients from Quebec and British Columbia took part in the online study between January and April 2018. More than 550 participants were actively taking opioids, 149 had stopped and 397 had never taken opioids as painkillers.

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“I’ve been taking opioids for 13 years now and it works,” study participant Vincent Raymond told Global News. “But when people hear opioids, it scares them.”

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The Quebec City resident has suffered from chronic pain ever since he fractured a vertebrae and despite a successful surgery in 2009, he still struggles.

“The pain is still there but instead of being at 5 or 6 on a scale of 10, it will go down to 3 or 4,” the 62-year-old said.

The study found that family physicians are often reluctant to prescribe opioids. Participants also reported that in some cases, pharmacists refused to fill prescriptions and in other cases, insurance companies denied coverage of opioids.

“There is often confusion between the crisis of fentanyl and the crisis of opioid,” Choinière said. “But in reality, the prevalence of opioid abuse and addiction in patients who suffer from chronic pain is quite low.”

Manon Choiniere, CRCHUM researcher
Manon Choiniere, CRCHUM researcher

The study’s leading researcher believes the best way to curb the stigma is to step up pain-control education and training for family physicians and to increase the number of pain-control clinics.

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The health minister would not comment on the study and its findings but a spokesperson for Gaétan Barrette’s office said: “We have nothing against pain clinics.”

READ MORE: NDP MP calls on Ottawa to investigate drug companies selling opioids

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