Emergency department patient perspectives on the risk of addiction to prescription opioids

Michael Conrardy, Patrick Lank, Kenzie A. Cameron, Ryan McConnell, Alison Chevrier, Jill Sears, Eric Ahlstrom, Michael S. Wolf, D. Mark Courtney, Danielle M. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective. To characterize emergency department (ED) patients’ knowledge and beliefs about the addictive potential of opioids. Design. Mixed methods analysis of data from a randomized controlled trial. Setting. Urban academic ED (>88,000 visits). Subjects. One hundred and seventy four discharged ED patients prescribed hydrocodone-acetaminophen for acute pain. Methods. The study analyzed data collected from a randomized controlled trial investigating patients’ knowledge of opioids. ED patients discharged with hydrocodone-acetaminophen completed an audio-recorded phone interview 4-7 days later. This analysis focuses on responses about addiction. Responses were categorized using content analysis; thematic analysis identified broad themes common across different categories. Results. Participants’ mean age was 45.5 years (SD, 14.8), 58.6% female, 50.6% white, and the majority had an orthopedic diagnosis (24.1% back pain, 52.3% other injuries). Responses were categorized first based on whether the patient believed that opioids could be addictive (categorized as: yes, 58.7%; no, 19.5%; depends, 17.2%; or do not know, 4.6%), and second based on whether or not the patient discussed his/her own experience with the medication (categorized as: personalized, 35.6%; or not personalized, 64.4%). Cohen’s Kappa was 0.84 for all categories. Three themes emerged in the thematic analysis: theme 1) patients expect to “feel” addicted if they are addicted, theme 2) patients fear addiction, and theme 3) side effects affected patient views of addiction. Conclusion. In this sample, patients had misconceptions about opioid addiction. Some patients did not know opioids could be addictive, others underestimated their personal risk of addiction, and others overtly feared addiction and, therefore, risked inadequate pain management. Despite limited data, we recommend providers discuss opioid addiction with their patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency Medicine
  • Narcotic Addiction
  • Opioid Analgesics
  • Opioids
  • Qualitative Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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