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Study: 40 percent of medical clinics refuse to treat regular opioid users

"Anecdotally, we were hearing about patients with chronic pain becoming 'pain refugees,' being abruptly tapered from their opioids or having their current physician stop refilling their prescription," said researcher Pooja Lagisetty.

By Tauren Dyson
Study: 40 percent of medical clinics refuse to treat regular opioid users
About 40 percent of primary care clinics refuse to treat patients who regularly use Percocet. File Photo by Andrei Rahalski/Shutterstock

July 12 (UPI) -- People who take opioids for chronic pain have a harder time finding a doctor than non-opioid taking patients, a new study.

About 40 percent of primary care clinics refuse to take patients who regularly use Percocet, regardless of what type of health insurance they have, according to research published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

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"Anecdotally, we were hearing about patients with chronic pain becoming 'pain refugees,' being abruptly tapered from their opioids or having their current physician stop refilling their prescription, leaving them to search for pain relief elsewhere," Pooja Lagisetty, a researcher at the University of Michigan and study lead researcher, said in a news release. "These findings are concerning because it demonstrates just how difficult it may be for a patient with chronic pain searching for a primary care physician."

For the study, the researchers contacted 194 primary care clinics in Michigan using the "mystery shopper" technique to ask if they were accepting new primary care patients.

RELATED Prenatal opioid exposure may lower IQ in babies

An additional 17 percent of clinics would ask follow-up questions before taking a patient who regularly uses opioids. And two-thirds of those clinics would require the patients to come in for a preliminary visit before accepting them patients.

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By contrast, larger clinics and those providing safety-net coverage were three times more likely to provide treatment to regular opioid users.

However, the team found that larger clinics and those that offer safety-net coverage were three times more likely than others to accept patients who currently take opioids for chronic pain.

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The researchers think the chronic pain treatment guide released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 may have put clinics on guard. The guidelines call for health providers to reduce opioid prescriptions to patients as a way to curb abuse.

"We hope to use this information to identify a way for us to fix the policies to have a more patient-centered approach to pain management," Lagisetty said. "Everyone deserves equitable access to health care, irrespective of their medical conditions or what medications they may be taking."

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