Canadian Survey Repudiates Government Policies Harming People in Pain

This article, in a slightly edited form, first appeared on Pain News Network on November 2, 2019.

Most humans want to know they are not alone when they are struggling with human crises. It is apparent from a recent survey announced by the Chronic Pain Association of Canada (CPAC) that our Canadian neighbors have the misfortune of sharing an American human-made crisis.

The Canadian Survey for Pain Patients Taking Opiate Medications

The Canadian Survey for Pain Patients Taking Opiate Medications was distributed to patients via social media during a two-month period in the summer of 2019. CPAC received 740 complete responses from all 10 provinces and Nunavut. Key findings add to the growing evidence that people in pain are suffering from policies directed towards reducing access to pain medication. The five major findings as reported by CPAC are:

1. Almost two-thirds of respondents reported that they have not had adequate pain control in the past two years (64%) and a similar number (66.2%) feel discriminated against and degraded because they require opiate medicines to cope with severe pain.

2. A third of patients (33.5%) have either been fired by their doctors or their doctors have refused to continue prescribing for them. Close to half (47.8%) have been forced against their will to taper their doses. A further 44.6% either have deteriorated relations with their medical providers or no longer have a doctor.

3. Substitutes for opiates have not helped. 72% reported they have more pain over the past two years, 70.6% are more disabled and can do less with their lives, and 69.2% report that their quality of life has declined. Almost 40% (39.9%) were not adequately treated for pain in emergency rooms.

4. As a result, almost 40% of patients have considered suicide (38.9%) because of the increased pain while 5.4% have attempted suicide. A third (33.5%) of respondents reported that they know of someone who did commit suicide because of the increase in pain.

5. One other “desperate solution” is that just fewer than 10% (9.9%) substituted dangerous street drugs for what they previously received as safe prescriptions. 30.8% reported they know patients who are purchasing street drugs for this reason.

Who’s to Blame for Canada’s Overdose Problem?

Based on their findings, CPAC’s Executive Director Barry Ulmer penned a letter to Canada’s Minister of Health that begins:

“I’m writing on the first day of Canada’s National Pain Week, when the country notes the tragedy of chronic pain, the right of all Canadians to have their pain relieved, and government’s obligation to ensure appropriate and timely care. Yet two million Canadians with ongoing pain serious enough to warrant treatment with opioid analgesics still suffer profoundly—and pointlessly—because federal policy dismisses their needs. In today’s opioid-averse regulatory climate, their access to care shrinks precipitously as Canada’s pain specialists vanish from practice, and especially from prescribing.”

Ulmer’s letter further describes how people in pain feel that they are being erroneously blamed for Canada’s overdose problem. Nevertheless, they are being forced to taper and, in many instances, to discontinue their pain medications.

The findings mirror the results of the U.S. survey conducted by Pain News Network which was released on the third anniversary of the March 2016 publication of the CDC opioid prescribing guideline.

The Canadian Family Physician reports that the 2017 Canadian opioid guidelines have left the Canadian health care system unable to manage its high-dose opioid patients. It states patients in both Canada and the U.S. report their pain is being inadequately treated.

Doctors are refusing to prescribe the opioids they need, and alternative treatments are insufficient. The pharmaceutical industry is being villainized, and health care professionals who prescribe opioids are under pressure to inappropriately adhere to a one-size-fits-all solution for pain patients.

It is understandable that politicians want to reduce the harm from inappropriate use of opioids, but it should not be at the expense of people in pain. This is a human rights issue that must not be ignored.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.” Opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views or policy of PRA Health Sciences.

You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.




  1. Lucy Lee on November 3, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Yes it’s terrible we are all put in the same basket. What’s worst the enabling that
    They are doing for the hard core drug addicts with their safe injection
    sites.Why would they want to stop when they can go to a safe clean place to do there
    illegal drugs with clean needles and someone watching over them at the taxpayers expense!
    The people that actually pay there taxes and contribute to society that are in chronic
    pain and need some medication to function and keep working they are being treated like drug seekers!
    Something is terribly wrong here! With all the methadone clinics if the real drug addicts wanted help
    they have enough places they could go! But most of us know about the people that use the clinics for help
    but also a lot that don’t! I know this because I spent 2 years at one of these clinics! Had I known going in what I know now
    I wouldn’t have chosen that route! But I was in so much pain and our doctor dropped our family
    after 20 years of being our family doctor, as time went on I found out he only dropped patients he
    was prescribing pain medication to! Talk about betrayal to leave your parents in hell!So now we are more worried about the drug addicts and making sure they are safe! What about the rest of us that contribute to society and the true chronic pain patients that now have to pay a price because all these different issues that got conflated into one big mess! Do you think chronic pain patients aren’t dying from being forced to buy black market drugs that are not safe or committing suicide cause they can’t take the pain! Where’s our voice!

  2. Stuart on November 11, 2019 at 1:47 am

    Every politician currently in office (regardless of party or platform) needs to be unelected at the earliest possible opportunity. Pain patients must vote single-issue to remove these criminals from public office. Once we get them out of office, we can initiate the many well-deserved criminal prosecutions for the millions of innocent people needlessly suffering and the thousands of military veterans that have lost their lives due to these scumbags being bought off by the addiction sector.

    This is the most widespread and lethal human rights violation that’s ever occurred in both the U.S. and Canada. The perpetrators can not get away with it!

    • Lucy lee on November 12, 2019 at 4:32 am

      Right on….I’m in Canada and it looks like we are going through the same crap.

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