Access to Pain Medicine: How Global Disparities in Healthcare Affect Pain Management

person holding a stress ball
Photo by Matthias Zomer on


Chronic pain is one of the most debilitating and widespread health conditions in the world. In fact, it affects more people than cancer and diabetes combined. Say’s Dr. William Siefert, yet, despite its prevalence, chronic pain remains undertreated in many countries around the globe. This issue has been widely discussed in health policy circles as well as media outlets; however, there are several other factors that contribute to inadequate pain management. In this article, we’ll examine why these global disparities exist and how they can be addressed going forward.

The Problem

It’s a global problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are over one billion people around the world who suffer from chronic pain, but only about half of these individuals have access to adequate treatment for their condition. Pain medicine is a basic human right–yet many countries still struggle with providing access to effective pain medication for those who need it most.

Pain Medicine Can Be Costly

The high cost of opioid medications means that not everyone who needs them can afford them, especially in developing countries where healthcare costs are often out of reach for families and individuals alike. In addition to being unaffordable, many patients living in poorer regions may lack sufficient insurance coverage or other resources necessary for obtaining prescriptions or paying out-of-pocket costs associated with treatment options such as physical therapy sessions and injections administered by doctors at private medical clinics located nearby

Access to Pain Medicine in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Global disparities in healthcare access have serious implications for pain management. In low- and middle-income countries, where the majority of the world’s population lives, there are often insufficient resources to provide adequate medical care. As a result, many people suffer from chronic conditions that require pain management but cannot obtain it because they lack access to medicines like opioids or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

In contrast with high-income countries such as the United States and Canada–where doctors are legally allowed to prescribe opioids for moderate-to-severe acute pain or cancer patients who experience severe symptoms–most physicians around the world don’t use these medications regularly due to fears over addiction risk and misuse by patients who aren’t suffering from severe illness.*

Access to Pain Medicine in High-Income Countries

Pain medicine is widely available in high-income countries, and many people with pain are able to get the medicine they need. In these countries, people can afford the medicine they need.

However, there are still some barriers for those who may have difficulty affording their prescription drugs. For example:

  • Patients with chronic pain often have more difficulty paying for their medications than those without chronic pain because of their medical conditions or age (older adults tend to be more financially vulnerable).
  • Women of childbearing age face additional challenges when trying to access appropriate pain management due to potential adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes if taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding periods (elderly women also face this issue).

Lack of access to pain medicine can lead to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Pain is a leading cause of disability, and a significant public health problem. In fact, chronic pain affects more than 100 million Americans annually. It’s estimated that over half of these people have difficulty accessing the medications they need to manage their pain effectively.

The consequences of untreated or undertreated pain are devastating: depression, anxiety and substance abuse are common outcomes when people suffer from severe chronic conditions without access to appropriate treatment options like opioids or other medications (e.g., anticonvulsants).


In conclusion, access to pain medicine is a global issue with serious consequences for the health of millions of people worldwide. While some countries have made progress in addressing this problem and improving access to pain management, others still have a long way to go.

Like this article?