Health care workers say it's been a tough year for Thunder Bay patients suffering from chronic pain as many have lost their family doctor through retirement.

At one local clinic, nurse-practitioner Tannice Fletcher-Stackhouse said many patients can no longer get prescription painkillers after their doctor stops practising.

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Tannice Fletcher-Stackhouse said the NorWest Community Health Centres walk-in clinic sees a lot of people who are very desperate and in a lot of pain. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

On top of the pain, they suffer withdrawal symptoms and often don't know where to turn.

"We have seniors coming into detox to ... do a non-medical detox program for pain that were on pain medications for legitimate, long-term chronic pain issues, which is really not an appropriate or safe manner [through which] to come off opiates," she said.

Fletcher-Stackhouse said the NorWest Community Health Centres walk-in clinic sees "a lot of people who are very desperate and in a lot of pain... They already have chronic pain, [and when] you add on withdrawal pain on top of that ... you can see the discomfort and the real sadness."

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NorWest Community Health Centres clinical services director Juanita Lawson said many people suffering from chronic pain are frustrated. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

'Nobody is taking me'

Clinical services director Juanita Lawson said many people suffering from chronic pain are frustrated.

"You know, their words are, 'Because I'm on narcotics, nobody is taking me'."

Lawson noted the clinic accepts as many pain patients as it can, however 600 remain on a waiting list despite the fact NorWest has taken on more than 1,000 new patients in the last year.

Staff goes beyond just prescribing medication and that takes time, she said, adding that physiotherapy and exercise are important too.

Because people with chronic pain need a primary care provider to manage their treatment, Lawson hopes other clinics in the community will also take on more patients.

She noted that NorWest is working on an education program with patients about the medications they're on, in order to prevent dependency.