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The unintended consequences of the opioid battle

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the opioid crisis, a piece from WUNC is worth your time today.

The story [1], which centers on a Jackson Springs man whose back injury has meant long-term pain management, examines the flip side of more stringent recent controls for opioid medication: a stigma for those who need but are not abusing it.

From the piece:

Pollard says he takes his medication as prescribed, and even tries to take less when he can. At times, he said he has shown his physician bottles that still have pills in them, even after the prescription should have run out.

But, he says that now when he goes to see pain specialists, they make him feel like a criminal. Like all he wants are more pills to abuse.

“They treat you like you’re a lesser class citizen,” said Pollard, while sitting on his front porch on a recent evening after work. “Everybody that walks through the door is not there for pain management. They are there to seek narcotics. That’s the way they feel. That’s the way they treat you.”

With more than 12,000 North Carolinians having died from overdoses in the last 18 years, the provisions of the STOP Act  [2]have been seen as long overdue to correct over-prescription and drug seeking behavior.

But as this story demonstrates – and as we’ve heard from some with chronic pain ourselves in reporting stories around this issue – it’s also led to a greater stigma among both doctors and patients that may make them hesitant to prescribe pain management drugs that are genuinely needed.