Chronic Pain and Prescription Opioid in North-East of England

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Anthropology


The long-term efficacy and safety of opioid pharmaceuticals in
chronic non-cancer pain has little evidence base and represents a
growing public health concern both globally and in the UK. Recent
research relates opioid use to pain intensity, and observes
geographical patterning in the prevalence of chronic pain across the
UK, with generally higher rates observed in the North-East than in
the South. These differences in prevalence, and subsequent rates of
opioid prescriptions can be situated within larger debates
surrounding north-south health inequalities. An anthropological
approach, in conjunction with perspectives from biomedicine and
pharmacology, can be used to enrich the quantitative research
which exists on this topic by allowing for a holistic perspective which
takes the complexity of pain (and its management) as a central
tenet. Literature on the anthropology of pain and pharmaceuticals
will be used in conjunction with clinical knowledge and guidelines to
situate the use of opioids for chronic pain within anthropology. This
research will understand pharmaceuticals as having 'social lives' and
will explore how opioids are used within this framework. This
research will explore the prescription and consumption of opioids in
an area of deprivation in the Northeast. Using an ethnographic
approach, fieldwork will be conducted over 12 months within
identified GP clinics in the Northeast (eg. Wearside, N. Tyneside). It
will attempt to understand the perspectives of patients and practitioners, using a 'biographical approach' to identify other
(perhaps unidentified) actors. This research will aim to explain and
improve non-evidence based use of opioids in primary care.


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