Chronic Pain Patients Face Unique Challenges Amid COVID-19

Chronic pain is common among seriously injured accident victims, yet it is often misunderstood and under-diagnosed. Experts call it ‘the invisible disability,’ an affliction that can derail a person’s life without presenting visible symptoms. For personal injury lawyers, chronic pain is a unique challenge – how can one secure fair and reasonable compensation for an accident victim who appears healthy while suffering acute physical and emotional distress?

There is currently concern among personal injury lawyers and victims’ advocates that the public health measures implemented to stem the spread of COVID-19 will have an outsized negative impact on the chronic pain community. Chronic pain is associated with elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, which have increased among the general public amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. The results of a survey conducted by the Pain News Network (PNN) suggest a similar trend is occurring in pain patients.

The survey was conducted in association with the International Pain Foundation and the Chronic Pain Association of Canada. It asked more than 2,200 respondents, mostly from the United States and Canada, about their experiences and concerns during the pandemic. The responses, some of which PNN shared in an April 23 blog post, shed light on the unique hardships faced by this vulnerable community.

Diminished Access to Treatment and Medication

“Some medications have been unavailable or on back order,” one respondent said. “Doctors have been unavailable; everything has been unavailable. I’m hanging on by a thread.”

“Not only do I worry about running out of medication, but each time I have to go to the pharmacy for various medications, I am exposing myself to others which could cause me to get the virus,” added another.

Many chronic pain patients rely on a combination of in-person medical treatments and prescribed medications to navigate daily life. Today, most in-person treatments have been cancelled. Massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and similar healthcare providers are considered non-essential by the nation’s health authorities. And while pharmacies are open, some pain patients have had difficulty accessing the medications that make their lives bearable. Opioid narcotics like fentanyl have attracted a negative reputation due to their connection to the addiction and overdose crisis in North America, but they are an important tool for chronic pain patients who do not respond to physical treatment.

Immune System and Long-Term Care Concerns

“Severe untreated pain has demolished my immunity; it shows on a blood test,” one survey respondent said. “I’m bedridden in assisted living and I am severely immune-compromised. I am supposed to have a biopsy, they think I have uterine cancer, but I won’t get treatment because I can’t have pain meds. Everyone in nursing homes is vulnerable.”

It is now common knowledge that the elderly, people living in long-term care facilities, and people who are immuno-compromised are at elevated risk of serious negative outcomes from COVID-19. In Canada, a majority of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes and similar facilities, but it’s not only older people who are affected. Many injury victims living with chronic pain are residents of long-term care homes, and research suggests that prolonged chronic pain may impact immune function.

Mental Health Issues

“It’s very difficult for a single, senior person living alone,” one survey respondent said. “I can go days without talking or seeing anyone. I suffer with depression anyway, but this has really increased it so much. It’s scary to think that people in this group could be sick or dead for days before being found. It’s incredibly lonely.”

“It has only exacerbated my anxiety and pain to a breaking point,” added another. “I don’t know long before I completely break down mentally.”

As personal injury lawyers know, mental health problems and chronic pain go hand-in-hand. The COVID-19 lockdown has limited social interactions for the healthiest members of our society; for individuals living with chronic pain, it may have severed vital connections to the outside world.

Chronic pain patients experiencing increased or heightened mental health problems are encouraged to take advantage of the City of Toronto and Province of Ontario’s mental health resources, including telephone access to crisis and community centres. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are in need.

Contact a Chronic Pain Lawyer at Will Davidson LLP

It’s natural to look inward during turbulent times. We are all experiencing challenges and adjusting to a strange new normal. However, it is important to remember that certain members of our community are particularly vulnerable to this terrible virus. At Will Davidson LLP, we are committed to representing and supporting those vulnerable community members.

If you or a member of your family experiences chronic pain as a result of an accident or injury, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of personal injury lawyers has represented Ontario’s most vulnerable injury victims for more than 90 years.

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