The Opioid Epidemic Makes It Harder for Patients to Find Primary Care

Last Updated: May 31, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

America’s opioid epidemic continues to cause a variety of issues, and now it’s also affecting the health care patients can receive. A recent study has found that Americans who use opioid pain relievers have a much more difficult time finding a primary care doctor. The reason is that clinics are less likely to accept these people as new patients.

Pain Patients Struggle to Find Primary Care

The study was done by contacting Michigan-area primary care clinics to ask about being taken on as a new patient. The callers posed as patients who use opioids for chronic pain relief. The results showed that out of 194 eligible clinics, 79 (40.7%) would not take on patients who needed opioids. It did not matter whether the patient had insurance. However, the results show that larger clinics were more likely to take on new patients who use opioids.

It’s believed that new guidelines for opioid prescriptions have caused doctors to stop prescribing these drugs altogether. However, this creates a problem for patients who are already taking opioids for pain relief. If their doctor stops prescribing medicine, these patients will likely have problems tapering and will experience withdrawal symptoms.

In 2017 alone, there were 47,600 deaths due to opioid overdose in the United States. However, countless other people are becoming dependent on these drugs and finding themselves unable to stop use. The study shows that lack of care is just one more way that the opioid epidemic has affected the nation.

Primary Care Access Vital

Continuous care is vital for people who use opioids, as these drugs can easily lead to misuse and addiction. It’s important for patients to find a primary care doctor who can monitor their opioid use and schedule a tapering regimen to prevent withdrawal.

Without the help of a doctor, patients may suffer from incredibly uncomfortable pain that remains untreated. They may even begin to seek out dangerous, illicit opioids in an effort to reduce pain and withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, the pain may be so great that patients have thoughts of suicide.

5 Signs You’re Ready to Taper Your Pain Medication

Many people begin using opioids to treat an injury. However, even using opioids for a short period can cause dependence, which leads to withdrawal symptoms if use is ended. Doctors will typically create a tapering schedule to help ease their patients off opioids. It may be time to begin your opioid tapering regimen if:

  • Your opioid use is developing into an addiction
  • You’re experiencing adverse effects
  • You’re on high dosages and not feeling any benefits
  • You’re not feeling any improvement in feelings of pain
  • You no longer want to use opioid medication for pain

If you are unable to taper or have tried a tapering schedule and were unsuccessful, The Recovery Village Ridgefield has treatment options that can help you recover from opioid dependence or addiction.

Is the Opioid Epidemic Creating Unnecessary Health Problems?

Though opioids can help people with chronic pain, it often leaves people dependent on the drug. Even people who take opioids as prescribed are at risk for misuse, dependence and addiction. For these reasons, people who use opioids should always have a primary care provider who monitors their opioid use.

Without access to primary care doctors, people are left without a way to relieve pain or a safe way to taper. “Pain contracts” are often used to prevent patients from misusing opioids, but these agreements can lead to many more issues. If a patient has a single misstep and does not use the medication correctly, their doctor can end the prescription immediately. Essentially, it can cause patients to become stressed because they’re worried about losing their only relief from pain.

Currently, people who rely on opioids are in a difficult position because there are fewer health care providers available to them. Without a primary care doctor, their opioid use may go unchecked and lead to life-threatening issues down the road.

If you or a loved one is showing signs of an opioid use disorder, The Recovery Village Ridgefield is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that can work well for your situation.


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    Lagisetty, Pooja; et al. “Access to Primary Care Clinics for Patients With Chronic Pain Receiving Opioids.” JAMA Network Open, July 12, 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

    National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Pocket Guide: Tapering Opioids for Clinical Pain.” Accessed September 27, 2019.

    Radcliffe, Shawn. “Chronic Pain Patients Angry Over ‘Opioid Contracts.’” Healthline, May 2, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2019.