Pain Patients Say Drugs Don’t Work

Pain Patients Say Drugs Don’t Work

Nearly nine out of 10 Americans with chronic pain say they are not satisfied with the drugs they take, according to the results of a new survey that also found that half of pain patients on opioid painkillers have had suicidal thoughts.

The national survey of over 1,000 chronic pain patients was conducted last summer by the Center for Public Advocacy at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a treatment center that takes a 12-step, drug-free approach to addiction and chronic pain treatment. The Center claims 73% of its patients are pain-free and drug-free after a year of treatment.

picture of doctor hands giving white pills and glass of water“Many people with chronic pain feel hopeless,” said Dr. Peter Przekop, an addiction treatment expert at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. “The pain seems unending, traditional treatment often leads to drug addiction, and many wonder if life is worth living.”

One of the more dramatic findings of the survey is that 97% of chronic pain sufferers had at least one instance of physical or emotional trauma prior to the onset of their pain.

The most common trauma reported was loss of a loved one (75%), followed by emotional abuse (48%), family drug abuse (37%), childhood accident (37%), physical abuse (30%) and sexual abuse (27%).

The findings about trauma are similar to those found in a recent National Pain Report survey of over 2,400 women with chronic pain. Seven out of 10 women in that survey reported having one or more incidents of childhood trauma. Nearly half had experienced emotional abuse as children.

“Doctors at the Betty Ford Center believe that this early pain experience often trains the person’s brain to be more receptive to future chronic pain in a way that does not lead to any treatment relief,” the Center said in a report on the survey.

The survey also found that nearly half of pain patients (48%) were asked to take three or more drugs concurrently to treat their pain. Nearly eight of 10 (79%) of those taking pain relievers said they want to reduce or eliminate their current medications and try an alternative treatment that doesn’t involve drugs.

“The medical system is too reliant on addictive drugs that don’t work and lead to costly and long-term liabilities,” said Przekop. “Truly this is a situation that needs new approaches.”

Other highlights of the survey:

  • 88.5% of pain patients are not satisfied with drugs as a basis for treatment
  • Only 4.9% have sought illegal drugs
  • Over a third (35%) believe they are drug dependent
  • Over half (50.4%) experienced lost productivity at work
  • Over a third (36.5%) faced family friction because of their pain
  • Over a quarter (27.2%) needed public assistance

According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain at a cost of around $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity.


Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

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Nice blog.Thanks for posting it.We are also in same us at our website.

Lisa j

To reply to several people’s comments above, I agree that as a chronic pain sufferer, I’ve been sucked in by Dr Peter Przekop’s comments of pain relief. I’ve just been checking into his program at Betty Ford which is $50,000 for 45 days.

Stephanie Asteriadis

The statement by Dr. Peter Przekop that: “traditional treatment often leads to drug addiction” is simply not true. A structured evidence-based review of all available studies on the development of abuse/addiction and aberrant drug-related behaviors (ADRBs) in chronic pain patients (CPPs) with nonmalignant pain on exposure to chronic opioid analgesic therapy (COAT) found that: “COAT exposure will lead to abuse/addiction in a small percentage of CPPs, but a larger percentage will demonstrate ADRBs and illicit drug use. These percentages appear to be much less if CPPs are preselected for the absence of a current or past history of alcohol/illicit drug use or abuse/addiction.” (Pain Med. 2008 May-Jun;9(4):444-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2007.00370.x. What percentage of chronic nonmalignant pain patients exposed to chronic opioid analgesic therapy develop abuse/addiction and/or aberrant drug-related behaviors? A structured evidence-based review.
Fishbain DA1, Cole B, Lewis J, Rosomoff HL, Rosomoff RS.)

Another rather large study of veterans showed similar results that fly in the face of Dr. Przekop’s statement and, instead support the fact that although addiction is a problem, it is not the chronic pain patients who are properly screened and being monitored appropriately who are the cause. I believe that making such cavalier statements is inflammatory and irresponsible and, instead of leading to solutions, is counter-productive and even dangerous. Healthcare providers are becoming so afraid of using drugs at all as part of a pain management program that legitimate chronic pain patients are being deprived of that option and are instead being told to “live with” their pain, which is unconscionable and devoid of compassion. Of course chronic pain patients are dissatisfied with the drugs they take. Most of them would probably prefer to not have to take any drugs, and many most likely could if alternative treatments were covered by insurance companies. This is a very biased and misleading article at best.


What a completely biased article. They use stats from a drug rehab and try to apply it to all people in pain?

Where’s all the evidence used to get this study? You can make any kind of results you like if you hand pick subjects who agree with you.

This is like going to a sex offender treatment center focused on men and asking them if they like to molest kids, and then I tell you all males want to molest children.

They are asking people in a drug treatment center.


Johnna Stahl, “Or maybe it’s because that prior physical or emotional trauma was either under-treated, mistreated, or never diagnosed or treated at all.” The people writting these articles and doing these studies as well as the government do not want to acknowledge that those who do not have good medical insurance and/or good income & resources do not have access to Quality Physical and Mental Health Care. Just being able to walk into a hospital/clinic/drs office does not mean that you receive any type of quality care. Nor does it mean that the person treating you knows how to treat the conditions you’re seeing them for. Unfortunately, the majority of those in this situation don’t know the difference in what they receive and what others receive when they can pay for it. So they have no way of knowing that there is better treatment or in some cases treatment at all. And they lives with the consequenses of the lack of quality or lack of treatment.

I see nothing in this article that breaks down the physical impairments that these individuals have by medical diagnosis that would cause severe chronic pain. Or even a break down of those with a medically determined reason for their pain and those without one. This article is nothing but self serving for Betty Ford and other similiar facilities. It also does a huge injustice to those who have been diagnoised with medical impairments that cause severe chronic pain and those who require pain meds to function.

I must say Wendy is right !! now lets take a poll filled out ONLY by Chronic Pain Patients who are unable to receive treatment due to the FAR reaching laws.

Johnna Stahl

“The Center claims 73% of its patients are pain-free and drug-free after a year of treatment.”

Does it claim this success rate with a straight face? Because the 12-step, drug-free “approach” is only a little more effective than a placebo. (Although accurate statistics are hard to come by.)

And I’m wondering… How much does it cost to enter the Betty Ford Clinic? And are its only customers those that can afford it? Because if you poll a thousand rich people on this issue, you’re likely to get skewed results. (When drug abuse is a problem, rich people go to Betty Ford. Poor people either manage it themselves, go to jail and then may be forced into rehab, or die.)

Is this a real survey or an ad for Betty Ford?

You know, maybe a history of trauma makes someone more susceptible to chronic pain — effecting some kind of change in the brain. But as Karen pointed out, trauma and tragedy are a part of life… a part of everyone’s life.

Or maybe it’s because that prior physical or emotional trauma was either under-treated, mistreated, or never diagnosed or treated at all.


I wonder how many people who don’t suffer from chronic pain have these same things in their history ?

dr sandra

Pain is the mechanism that our bodies use to tell us that all is not well. Once we are aware of what is wrong, we can well do without it continuing, unfortunately that is not how it works. For those of us who suffer with chronic conditions such as arthritis, headaches (including migraines), tendinitis, and other painful ailments, it’s all too tempting to reach for commercial painkillers like ibuprofen. But is that the best course of action?
There are other natural pain relief agents; it is just a matter of knowing which ones work and which ones don’t.

These are also known as Pran Yantra or the Life Force Energy.
They work on the vibratory frequency of the individuals and the percentage of satisfied user is growing.

Karen Quanbeck

I have to question the implied relationship between chronic pain and physical and emotional trauma. After all, I would expect 97% of mature adults over 35 have experienced at least one of these: a loss of a loved one, the physical trauma of an accident or surgery, felt the wound of emotional abuse, or have one family member with an addiction issue.


I’m on the first steps of a medication draw down right now. I’m about 4 weeks in. I’ve had to draw on Gabapentin, after getting a side effect from build up in the system. I then saw a pain neurologist, and she said I had to draw down on MS Contin. Both combined was only bringing my small fiber fibro pain down to a 6/10 during warmer months. During colder months, I’d have to add Lortab. All that combined still only brought me down to an 8/10 in the winter. I tried all the regular fibro meds. none of them worked. A handful gave me a weird dis joined from my body feeling.

I don’t see myself being out of pain as it stands right now. The first week of the Contin draw down was not pleasant. My pain levels have increased to a 7/10, and I’m only 1/3rd of the way drawn down right now. My non medicated levels are an easy 9/10. I have no idea how I did it for the year time frame that I did it while still active duty.

So, how does this equate to the article? I feel like generalizing all chronic pain together is a tough thing to do. There are so many reasons for it, that you really almost can’t. Even further compounding the issue is the fact that not everyone has the same experience with a said disease. Fibromyalgia has a HUGE variance from patient to patient, and that is only 1 of many chronic pain causing diseases. What I do agree with is surveying. However, not just 1 side of the coin. On the fibro side, I feel weirdly left out at times as a male fibro sufferer. So much of it focuses on women, who tend to be the majority of sufferers. In order to get a true consensus, a balanced survey should be done. For the best effect, a survey for each chronic pain causing disease. It will be a large undertaking, but I think it would be worth it. It may lead down a road towards treatment or possibly prevention, that may not have otherwise been left not explored.

John Quintner

“Doctors at the Betty Ford Center believe that this early pain experience often trains the person’s brain to be more receptive to future chronic pain in a way that does not lead to any treatment relief.”

With respect, this belief does not make sense, even given our limited understanding of how brains function!

But we have good reason to suspect that early stressful life experiences can influence our responses to stressors (both physical and psychological) encountered in later life. The unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that we call “pain” is likely to be one correlate of activation of our inbuilt stress response systems that are evolutionarily conserved. Problems can arise when the responses can no longer switch themselves off.

Pain is no more a physical entity than is love. Both are uniquely human experiences that are created for us on a moment-to-moment basis by our wonderfully complex brains. The good news for sufferers is that like all experiences, the pain experience can be modulated.

We also know that drugs when used ALONE are not the answer for most people with chronic pain. There are a number of evidence-informed non-drug options available to help people modulate their experience. This is a rapidly expanding area of research.


A, no “the” detox center in the US discovers that people with chronic pain who are under care at their center want to stop taking meds – why is this news? Because they report it in survey form? Of course people who are going for detox want to stop taking drugs/meds. That is the point of detox!

Bob Twillman

How was this sample selected? Was it people who were in treatment for substance abuse, or a more general sample of people with chronic pain? Do you have a link to the study so we can examine the methodology?