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As Prescriptions Become Scarce, Pain Sufferers Resort to Street Drugs

On June 1 of this year, British Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons decided to try something new as an alternative to doctors prescribing their patients opioids for pain: now doctors are required to try non-drug treatments on their patients first and only resort to prescribing pain meds when all other avenues have failed, and even then in only a limited supply.

The problem with this is that no one expected the backlash that came from this decision, that when patients are still in pain after seeing their doctor, then they too are going to look for alternative methods to solve their problem, and that unfortunately includes buying street drugs on the black market.

Owen Williamson, president of the Pain Medicine Physicians of B.C. Society, points out that both the lack of funding for pain medication, as well as the lack of access to it, is an even bigger problem, mainly because patients who need the physical therapy and psychological help to get well and permanently abolish the pain aren’t getting it.

He clarified that he wasn’t arguing in favor of opioids being prescribed to patients who were being denied these services, but he wanted to make clear the fact that when it comes to easing patients’ pain, physicians’ hands are tied insofar as the options that can be offered to their patients.

Pain B.C.’s executive director, Maria Hudspith, brought up the unsettling point that there is no fee code for “chronic pain” in B.C.’s MSP system. As a result, doctors do not get paid for taking the time to explain pain regimens to their patients, much less sit down and one with them. So patients have no idea how to treat their pain other than popping a handful of pills.

And it is when those pills are suddenly either unavailable or available in lesser quantities than the patient needs (because he or she is unaware of exercises or other methods of treating their pain), that they then turn to the black market for their much-needed relief.

For instance, illegal marijuana dispensaries have been popping up like wildfire in certain areas of B.C., like Ottawa. Just this month alone, five new dispensaries have been established, rounding the total number of the dispensaries in the area out to nine. So long-term sufferers can visit these dispensaries in order to secure some weed to take the edge off of their pain when a visit to their doctor becomes insufficient.

Interestingly, while law enforcement is struggling to keep these dispensaries contained, it is expected that recreational marijuana will be legalized in the area next year. So while these dispensaries are opening prematurely, the same places that are getting shut down for being illegal now will simply re-establish themselves next year when it is legal to do so, which makes upholding the laws involved with building planning and such, as well as the illegality of dispensing marijuana in this way, significantly more difficult on lawmakers and law enforcement.