Why the Pain Community Should Support Voting Rights Legislation

This article, in a slightly edited form, first appeared on Pain News Network on September 4, 2021.

I believe to my core that all people should be able to vote without experiencing intimidation or hardship. People who are in chronic pain—many of whom require opioids to enjoy any quality of life—live outside of society’s safety net. They don’t run for political office because they can’t. They don’t make the laws that oppress them. And now they’re in danger of being unable to vote against those laws.

Congress recently passed H.R. 4, which is a revised version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill is designed to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were diminished by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and further gutted last year. Essentially, the 2013 ruling allowed some states to change their election laws without receiving federal approval. While H.R. 4 passed in the House of Representatives, it now faces opposition in the evenly divided Senate.

H.R. 1, For the People Act 2021, is another voting rights bill that is being considered. It would ensure same-day voter registration and early voting throughout the country for national elections. This flexibility is precisely what many people in pain need. The law also attempts to correct the corrupt gerrymandering that contributes to the country’s hyper-partisan divide. This bill would also be important to support.

Making Voting Difficult Impacts the Most Vulnerable Among Us

On August 28, 2021, I marched in Salt Lake City in support of easier and more practical ways to vote and to protect the right of everyone to participate in our democratic process. When I attended this rally, I learned that voter suppression is a much broader problem than I had realized. It isn’t only an issue involving people of color. Intentionally or not, voter suppression prevents many subsets of Americans from having a voice in our democracy.

Although the voting rights movement has been championed mostly by people of color, everyone should be involved. This affects all of us. It targets people who are poor and can’t afford to take a day off to vote, and those who can’t leave their home because they can’t pay for childcare, are caregivers for the elderly or sick, or are sick or disabled themselves. People with severe, disabling pain and those who provide care for them are affected by voter suppression laws as much as those of any other minority.

During my walk from Utah’s state capital to Washington Park on that hot Saturday, I realized my 40-minute hike was nothing compared to the challenges that many had to endure during the last election, and may have to experience in future elections, including waiting for hours. I was sweating and thirsty. Fortunately, the organizers provided us with cold water. Others may not be so lucky.

In Georgia, restrictions have recently been passed to prevent voters standing in line from receiving water. The laws also limit absentee ballots and the number of ballot boxes, which makes it more difficult for caregivers, the disabled, and people with disabling pain to vote.

As I marched, I began to wonder how people in pain would be able to tolerate standing in a long line. How could people who use a wheelchair or walker, or who suffer from chronic migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, or severe arthritis, endure the wait? Even healthy senior citizens and others who must void their bladders frequently may be unable to stand in a long line to have their voice heard.

If one person’s rights are diminished, the rights of all people are diminished. These restrictive laws are unnecessary, and it would be an injustice for us to allow their passage.

The Pain Community Needs a Voice

There are 20 million people with disabling pain. This represents more than 12 percent of the total number of people who voted in the last presidential election. That is more than three times the difference in votes between Biden and Trump. It is a consequential population.

Pain and addiction don’t preferentially affect Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. They harm all people equally, and people with pain and addictions are not tied to any political tribe.

People in pain do not have a collective political voice. They have been marginalized and forced into the darkness. People with substance use disorders also have been silenced. Our drug laws are punitive and utterly disastrous. The only way to change this is by voting for those who will represent our interests.

Therefore, it’s important for the pain and addiction communities, regardless of their political allegiances, to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The law would help restore the rights granted under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would go further to empower the federal government to enforce those rights.

What We Can Do

I suggest everyone call or email their senators, even if their senators support the bill. They need to know where their constituents stand. If possible, join and donate to an organization fighting for your right to vote. Write an op-ed for your local newspaper or media outlet expressing your views on how to make it easier, not harder, for you to vote.

Disenfranchised people are in danger of losing their right to vote, and people in pain are an important constituency. Forming a collective voice to advocate for all people who suffer chronic pain is just as important, although it is a topic for another day. The time to support these voting rights bills is now…before it’s too late.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a Senior Fellow, Center for U.S. Policy (CUSP) and Chief Medical Officer of PainScript. He consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is the author of “The Painful Truth” and co-producer of the documentary “The Painful Truth” which aired nationally on public broadcasting stations.

You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.



  1. Dr. Jeffrey Fudin on September 5, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Lynn, Thank you for addressing this. It is an excellent post and much needed perspective!!!

  2. Suzi on September 5, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you Lynn. So interesting and clear.

  3. Connie Martin on September 5, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    As always, another stellar posting by Dr. Webster. I live in the Sacramento area, and believe a lot can be done here in the way of protests, contacting our political liaisons, and more. If I can’t find protest organizers here first, I will do what I can to start one! Don’t know how long I will last standing or walking on cement for hours but will do the best I can. Thank you again, Dr. Webster. You’ve lit the fire!

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