Does doubting medication effectiveness influence how it works?

22 Jul 2022

A University of Queensland study is investigating how a person’s confidence in managing their medication may help to manage chronic pain levels.

UQ RECOVER Injury Research Centre Senior Research Fellow and clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Elphinston said the study will research how psychological factors such as a person’s thoughts and feelings might influence management of chronic pain, including use of opioid medications.

“Many chronic pain management studies focus on a person’s confidence in completing day to day activities despite pain, and less on how a person’s confidence in managing medication is impacting their pain experience,” Dr Elphinston said.

“We hope to better understand how various emotions and confidence influence a person’s pain management, so we can design new approaches.

“Currently we know treatments are not always tailored to an individual’s unique circumstances.”

In Australia 3.2 million people live with chronic illness, including arthritis, back and neck pain, pain resulting from injury, post-surgical pain or nerve-related pain.

Recent research by Dr Elphinston shows 56 per cent of Australians with chronic pain use prescription opioids, and about 50 per cent may be exposed to potential harms such as adverse side effects. 

“These numbers are much higher than estimates of prescription opioids use around the world,” Dr Elphinston said.

Daily there are nearly 150 hospitalisations and sadly, three people die from opioid-related problems in Australia.

Associate Professor Matthew Gullo from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research (NCYSUR) said pharmaceutical opioids are now responsible for more deaths and hospitalisations from poisoning in Australia than any other pharmaceuticals.

“Prescription opioids play an important role in providing pain relief for many people as living with chronic pain can be debilitating,” Dr Gullo said.

“It’s important that people have the confidence in managing their medication as part of a broader pain management plan.”

The research team is looking for adults with a chronic pain condition who use prescription opioids, as well as those not currently using medications to participate in a short online questionnaire.

Survey participants will enter a draw to win one of two $100 gift vouchers.

Interested individuals should visit the website to register.

The study is a collaboration with Professor Michele Sterling from RECOVER Injury Research Centre, Professor Jason Connor and Associate Professor Matthew Gullo from NCYSUR and School of Psychology Honours student Claudia Watson.

Media: Dr Rachel Elphinston,, 07 3346 9643; Bridget Druery, UQ Communications,, +61 7 3366 3037.