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The Price Tag of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain comes at a cost -- from lost wages to social stigma. You don't have to pay the price.

Another Price of Pain: Social Stigma

Pain has a high social cost for the sufferer, too. Because pain is a personal and subjective experience, it can lead to problems with family and co-workers. While you may be in terrible distress, the people around you just can't see or feel what you're going through.

"I think people in pain sometimes get unfairly dismissed by family and co-workers" Robert Bonakdar, MD, tells WebMD, "especially when they don't have an outward sign of suffering, like a cast or a bandage." Bonakdar is the director of integrative pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, Calif.

Cohen says this is toughest for people who suffer from painful syndromes, like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and complex regional pain syndrome.

"There's much less sympathy and understanding for these elusive syndromes," says Cohen. While Edwards says that the treatment for pain can often lead to as much stigma as the pain itself.

"When people hear that you're taking a narcotic pain reliever like methadone," he says, "they associate it with addicts." That can lead people to make some very wrong assumptions about you.

Are Health Risks the Price of Pain Relief?

Adding insult to injury, some pain medicines can pose health risks as well. The Cox-2 inhibitors Vioxx and Bextra are no longer available, removed from the shelves because of side effects. And we've all heard the stories about celebrities developing an addiction to narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

Even a class of common over-the-counter painkillers -- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin -- can pose a risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

"The costs of treating complications from NSAIDs are more than $2 billion a year," says Cohen. "That's almost the same amount that's spent on these drugs."

It can leave someone in pain stuck in the middle. They want relief from their pain, but they're worried the treatment will be worse than the cure.

However, Cowan says that fears of addiction to narcotic painkillers are overstated. "People think that if you take a dose of OxyContin, you become a lifelong addict," says Cowan. "That's not true." She says that usually, when taken as prescribed, people will not have a problem.

Edwards adds that there's confusion between dependence on a drug and addiction to it.

"If you take any drug regularly, your body will get used to it," he says. "That's called dependence and it's very different from addiction. I'm an asthmatic and I'm dependent on my inhaler. Without it I'm on the floor gasping. But that does not mean I'm addicted to it."

Dependence can cause some symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the medicine. Your pain might worsen temporarily. But Edwards says there are ways of lessening these side effects if you're prepared for them.

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