A Qualitative Study of the Pain Experience of Black Individuals With Cancer Taking Long-Acting Opioids

Cancer Nurs. 2023 Feb 4. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000001197. Online ahead of print.


Background: Little is known about the experience of Black individuals with cancer taking long-acting opioids for cancer pain.

Objective: This study aimed to describe the day-to-day experience of living with pain and the experiences of taking opioids for pain management among Black individuals with cancer prescribed with long-acting opioids.

Methods: This qualitative descriptive study was part of a larger investigation focused on opioid adherence. Participants (N = 14) were interviewed using a semistructured interview guide. Analysis followed conventional content analysis and constant comparison approaches. Sociodemographics, clinical information, and the Brief Pain Inventory form were collected.

Results: The majority of the subsample was female (64.3%), not married (78.6%), and with a median age of 52.5 years. Participants were taking either MS Contin (85.7%) or OxyContin (14.3%). The Brief Pain Inventory median "average" pain severity scores and pain interference scores were 5.1/10 (interquartile range [IQR] = 6.1) and 3.5/10 (IQR = 6.7), respectively. Three themes are reported from the analyses: desire for control, barriers to pain relief, and isolation versus connectedness.

Conclusion: Our findings highlight the persistent nature of moderate to severe cancer pain and how pain and its treatment interfere with patients' lives. The findings describe ways that patients learn to manage and exert control over pain despite conflicting attitudes and dealing with opioid stigma.

Implication for practice: Clinicians should partner with patients with cancer, especially people of color, who may experience intersecting stigmas related to their cancer pain and opioid use, to best provide an individualized and culturally sensitive pain treatment plan.