A Qualitative Study of Veterans on Long-Term Opioid Analgesics: Barriers and Facilitators to Multimodality Pain Management

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Abstract

Objective.

The aim of this study was to examine barriers and facilitators to multimodality chronic pain care among veterans on high-dose opioid analgesics for chronic non-cancer pain.

Setting.

A Veterans Health Administration clinic in San Antonio.

Participants.

Twenty-five veterans taking at least 50 mg morphine equivalent daily oral opioid doses for more than 6 months.

Methods.

Three semi-structured focus groups, each with seven to nine veterans. Interview guide addressed: chronic pain effects on quality of life, attitudes/experiences with multimodality pain care, social support, and interest in peer support. In an iterative process using grounded theory, three reviewers reviewed de-identified transcripts for themes. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) framework was used to classify barriers and facilitators to multimodal pain management.

Main Results.

The 25 participants had a mean age of 54 years (39–70); 32% were women and 24% non-white. The three TPB dimensions (attitudes, social norms, and perceived behavioral control) were reflected in emergent themes: 1) uncontrollable impact of pain in all aspects of life; 2) reliance on opioids and challenges in obtaining these drugs despite ambivalence about benefits; 3) poor access to and beliefs about non-pharmacologic therapies; 4) frustrations with Department of Veterans Affairs health care; and 5) poor social support and isolation reflected by limited interest in peer support.

Conclusions.

Veterans with chronic pain on long-term opioids hold pervasive attitudes that prevent them from using multimodality pain management options, lack social support and social norms for non-opioid-based pain treatment options, and have poor perceived control due to poor access to multimodality care.

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