How Do Primary Care Physicians Handle Opioids For Patients Seeking Chronic Pain Relief?

PainRelief.com Interview with:
Laura Militello
Unveil, LLC
Applied Decision Science, LLC

PainRelief.com:  What is the background for this study?

Response: Little is known about how primary care clinicians’ (PCC) approach chronic pain management in the current climate of rapidly changing guidelines and the growing body of research about risks and benefits of opioid therapy. When it comes to pain management, primary care clinicians (PCCs) find themselves in a somewhat unexpected role. Few conditions intersect with a range of specialties (i.e. mental health, orthopedics, endocrinology, etc.), disability, and aberrant behavior in the way that chronic pain does. PCCs find themselves in a position where they are asked to assess and diagnose sometimes vague and diffuse pain, and determine appropriate treatment often before the underlying cause of the pain is well-understood.

A recent cultural shift in the U.S. has created a situation in which a formerly default treatment, prescription opioid therapy, is no longer considered safe or appropriate for many patients with chronic pain. The addictive qualities and overall safety profile of opioid medications have come into sharp focus in recent years, leading to a push to reduce opioid use while also trying to achieve pain relief with little guidance for PCCs about how to manage this change in treatment plans. Others have documented the uneasiness many experience in managing patients with chronic pain. One participant in our study described the sense that opioid prescribing sometimes extends into unexpected and disconcerting territory in this way: “I never signed up to be an enforcer.” The complexity and moral uncertainty (6) associated with managing patients with chronic pain is an important backdrop for the findings from this study.