Physicians are increasingly failing to provide comprehensive pain treatment to patients suffering from chronic pain, and are being under-treated as - either due to inadequate training, personal biases or fear of prescription drug abuse, according to an expert.
Kathryn Hahn, a pharmaceutical expert in pain management in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University says the issue is reaching crisis.
She insists health consumers must be aware of the problem and in many cases become more informed, persistent advocates for the care they need and deserve.
"We have more sophisticated pain management techniques available now than ever before," said Hahn.
"But many doctors are not fully informed about all the options available, and also often turn patients away because they're very concerned about the problems with prescription drug abuse.
"Because of this, many people suffer needlessly with pain that could be treated, and almost 80 percent of visits to community pharmacies involve pain issues.
"We're in the middle of a storm here, and have to figure out some way to navigate through it," Hahn added.
In recent years, the problems have dramatically increased due to concerns about prescription drug abuse, in which drugs such as oxycodone are often stolen from homes or otherwise misused.
In a 2006 survey of teenagers, 62 percent said prescription pain relievers were easy to get from their parents' medicine cabinet.
Concerns about this within the medical profession are sufficiently high, Hahn said, that many doctors prefer not to even work with patients who have ongoing pain issues.
"I see patients every week who have lost their doctors, don't know what to do and these people are scared. It's particularly bad with elderly and Medicare patients," said Hahn.
"Prescription drug abuse is a very real problem, we do have to take necessary steps to address it, but right now the pendulum has swung too far, and legitimate pain problems are not being managed," Hahn added.
She said that doctors and nurses should accept that patients are the final arbiter of determining that something is painful, believe them and work with them on their concerns.
Patients should cooperate with their health care providers on pain relief plans that may include a range of options, including prescription drugs but also alternative approaches such as chiropractic care, exercise, acupuncture, meditation, implantable devices, massage, or physical and occupational therapy.
Individuals should try to work and communicate patiently with their health care providers, not switch doctors arbitrarily, educate themselves if necessary, but be persistent in having their pain concerns taken seriously.