'Pain refugees' travel out of Montana for access to opioid prescriptions

Montana, which reports a higher rate of opioid abuse than the national average, has cracked down on physicians prescribing painkillers in recent years.

Some Montana residents, who call themselves pain refugees, say it's almost impossible to find a physician willing to treat chronic pain, so they have to fly out of state to receive treatment, according to Kaiser Health News.

One of those pain refugees is Gary Snook, who had spine surgery for a ruptured disk 14 years ago and has taken opioids ever since. He describes his pain as the feeling of being boiled in oil from the waist down 24 hours a day.

"I got a surgery, epidural steroid injections, acupuncture, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, pool exercises," he said. "I've tried anything that anyone has ever suggested me to try. Unfortunately what I do right now is the only thing that works."

Mr. Snook flies to California every 90 days to visit a small strip mall clinic in Los Angeles and get a prescription for an opioid painkiller from Forest Tennant, MD.

Dr. Tennant has about 150 patients at his clinic, half of whom are from out of state. While he admits there are legitimate reasons for concern about opioids, Dr. Tennant believes they should be used responsibly as a last resort to help patients who have not responded to any other type of pain treatment.

"I believe pain control is a fundamental human right, or at least an attempt at pain control," said Mr. Snooks. "To deny someone with a horrible disease like me access to pain medications is the worst form of cruelty."

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