Terminology matters: patient understanding of opioids and narcotics

Pain Practice, 06/12/2012

While more women were more familiar with narcotic, many identified negative connotations with this term. Future research should explore how to improve patient understanding and attitudes regarding both the terms opioids and narcotics.


  • A convenience sample of English–speaking women (n = 188), aged 21–45 years, seeking care at a primary care clinic were asked
    • “What is an opioid/narcotic?”
    • “Give an example of an opioid/narcotic?”
    • “Why does someone take an opioid/narcotic?”
    • And “What happens when someone takes an opioid/narcotic for a long time?”
    • Responses were recorded verbatim by a research assistant and then coded independently by two investigators.


  • More than half of respondents (55.9%) responded “don’t know” to all 4 opioid questions, while just 3.2% responded “don’t know” to all 4 narcotic questions (P < 0.01).
  • Most women were unfamiliar with the term opioid (76.3%) and did not know why someone would take an opioid (68.8%).
  • About two–thirds of respondents were able to give an example of a narcotic (64.2%) and knew the consequences of long–term narcotic use (63.2%).

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