“I Was a Little Surprised”: Qualitative Insights From Patients Enrolled in a 12-Month Trial Comparing Opioids With Nonopioid Medications for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain

Marianne S. Matthias, Melvin T. Donaldson, Agnes C. Jensen, Erin E. Krebs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Chronic musculoskeletal pain is a major public health problem. Although opioid prescribing for chronic pain has increased dramatically since the 1990s, this practice has come under scrutiny because of increases in opioid-related harms and lack of evidence for long-term effectiveness. The Strategies for Prescribing Analgesics Comparative Effectiveness (SPACE) trial was a pragmatic 12-month randomized trial comparing the benefits and harms of opioid versus nonopioid medications for chronic musculoskeletal pain. The current qualitative study was designed to better understand trial results by exploring patients’ experiences, including perceptions of medications, experiences with the intervention, and whether expectations were met. Thirty-four participants who were purposefully sampled based on treatment group and intervention response participated in semistructured interviews. The constant comparison method guided analysis. Results revealed that participants often held strong beliefs about opioid medications, which sometimes changed during the trial as they gained experience with medications; participants described a wide variety of experiences with treatment effectiveness, regardless of study group or their response to the intervention; and participants highly valued the personalized pain care model used in SPACE. Perspective: SPACE trial results indicated no advantage for opioid over nonopioid medications. Qualitative findings suggest that, for both treatment groups, preexisting expectations and anticipated improvement in pain shaped experiences with and responses to medications. The personalized pain care model was described as contributing to positive outcomes in both groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1090
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018



  • Chronic pain
  • nonopioid analgesics
  • opioids
  • patient–provider communication
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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