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    Over the last decades public discussion of opioids has changed radically. Opioid was once a word largely restricted to professional medical and pharmacological use for the treatment and management of pain. But propelled by the rapidly growing international wave of opioid use and overuse, it is now part of a much wider public discussion that covers more than pain medicine: dependency, addiction, over-prescription and oversupply, recreational drug use, and criminal drug trafficking. The word opioid is now controversial and value-laden. A key component of the developing views and values about opioids is carried by language, both written and spoken: on radio and television, in the social media, but also between healthcare professionals and patients, where communicating about pain in a context of emotionally and value-charged images of opioids can be challenging. This paper analyses aspects of the language of opioids. We document the shift from medical to addiction meanings and uses in the key term opioid, together with narcotic, drug, heroin, and to a lesser degree opiate and morphine. These changes follow four chronological phases in attitudes to pain and its treatment: traditional medical approaches to pain; pain being recognised as an under-treated 'fifth vital sign'; the pharmacological and medical promotion of opioid use for treating pain, especially chronic pain; and the current reaction where opioid has become a pejorative and emotive term, closely connected to words like epidemic and addiction. We investigate whether and how a less charged and more balanced discourse might be possible.


    Roland D Sussex. Opioid', opioids, pain, language and communication. Anaesthesia and intensive care. 2022 Mar;50(1-2):15-28

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    PMID: 35236093

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