Survey: Opioid users feel media coverage stigmatizes treatment
Researchers from the CHUM conducted a study on the impact that the opioid crisis has had on people who suffer from chronic, non-cancer pain.
Over 1400 people across Quebec and British Columbia participated in the survey, conducted in partnership with McGill, Laval, and Sherbrooke Universities.
The survey of patients- most of them from Quebec – examined opinions and concerns about opioids, as well as the difficulties of accessing treatment.
According to participants, coverage of the crisis in the mainstream media has given prospective patients a negative outlook.
“Both in Quebec and British Columbia, we had about eleven per cent of the patients who reported that in the last 12 months, they had a hard time or did not find a physician who wanted to treat their pain,” explained Manon Choiniere, one of the researchers.
The hope is to end the stigma surrounding opioids, and get the message out that opioids aren’t necessarily bad.
“There is a certain proportion of patients who can benefit from opioids,” Choiniere added.
When it comes to prescribing them, Dr. Paul Saba – a family physician – is cautious. Although he says he does prescribe the medication to patients, and believes they can be effective, other ways to reduce pain should be considered.
“We have to look at all forms of treatment: physical therapy, hydrotherapy, getting people walking,” Saba explained.
“Opiates are really medications that are not the first line, they’re not even the second line – they should really be third line,” he added.
By comparing the respondents from the two provinces, the study found that patients in Quebec seem to fear opioids more than their counterparts in the western part of Canada.
In Quebec, 20 per cent of current opioid users are afraid to become addicts, compared to only seven per cent in British Columbia.
Vincent Raymond has been taking opioids since 2003, when he fractured a vertebrae while mountain biking. He believes there is a stigma surrounding opioids – but without them, he says, he’s a different person.
“I lose my patience, I’m mad at people – I cannot stand myself,” he said.
Raymond recently switched to Methadone, now taking 15 milligrams a day. He believes people shouldn’t be afraid of taking opioids, but stresses there must be a balance.
“Don’t forget that opioids, it’s not to be pain free,” Raymond said. “It’s to lower your pain.”
Raymond has worked to reduce his dosage, and although he admits it hasn’t been easy, it can be done.
But patients in British Columbia, the study finds, were much more likely to be turned away or have their opioid use stopped by doctors. Twenty six per cent of participants had this experience.
In Quebec, the problem is less prominent – only 14 per cent had this problem.
With files from The Canadian Press.