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Keywords:

  • Opioids;
  • Chronic Pain;
  • Qualitative Research;
  • Patients' Experience;
  • Support;
  • Hope

Abstract

Aims

To investigate the progression of the illness and opioid journeys of people who are taking opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.

Methods

In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 20 people who were taking opioids for non-cancer pain. A purposive sample was drawn from patients attending two pain clinics in Melbourne, Australia. Transcripts were analyzed within case, as individual narratives, and across case, as a thematic analysis. Conceptual explanatory variables were developed.

Results

The experience of taking opioids for chronic non-cancer pain varies greatly between individuals and these diverse narratives—chaos, restitution, and quest narratives—raise questions about why and how some individuals find a way forward, while others remain in situations of chaotic and worsening ill health. We offer an explanation for this variability in terms of four key influences: support from individual health professionals and the health system; medical explanation or solutions; social support and social responsibilities; and the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions and self-help strategies. A unifying theme was the importance of maintaining hope.

Conclusion

The four key factors influencing the progress of people taking opioids for chronic non-cancer pain are rooted in the provisions made by society for caring for this patient group and involve relationships between patient and provider, between patients and their social world, and between different providers and their professional knowledge. In our patient sample, effective support involved the provision and maintenance of hope, and professionals who are knowledgeable about opioids and chronic pain, good communicators, and cognizant with their patients' social support and responsibilities.