Opioids, suicide, chronic pain in new research focus

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Opioids, suicide, chronic pain in new research focus

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19 March 2020

A Sydney public health academic has joined USC to continue and expand her research into the physical and mental health problems of people prescribed opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.

Dr Gabrielle Campbell, who in 2017 was awarded a $320,000 NHMRC Australian Public Health Early Career Fellowship, is concerned about the poor mental health outcomes, including suicidal behaviours, of people living with chronic non-cancer pain.

Dr Campbell, who has moved with her family to Currimundi to work as a Senior Research Fellow at USC Sunshine Coast, will remain an adjunct academic with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) based at UNSW Sydney where she worked from 2006.

“I want to increase awareness and knowledge of the complexities of pharmaceutical opioid use and the long-term management of people with chronic pain such as arthritis, migraines or long-term back and neck problems,” she said.

“My PhD in 2016 was related to a large study I coordinated at NDARC into the experiences of more than 1,500 Australians, with a median age of 58 years old, who were recruited through community pharmacies.

“Called the Pain and Opioids IN Treatment (POINT) study, it found a higher than expected rate of suicide-related behaviours in people living with chronic non-cancer pain.

“In terms of suicide prevention, we really need to understand the impact that living with pain can have on an individual, and the types of support required by these individuals.”

The POINT cohort is an internationally recognised study examining the benefits and harms associated with prescribed opioids in people living with chronic non-cancer pain. Papers have been published in Pain, The Lancet Psychiatry and The Lancet Public Health.

“We followed this cohort for five years and are now analysing more data to increase knowledge and understanding in this area,” she said.

Dr Campbell said the results could inform global attitudes towards long-term medical treatment with opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.

“At USC, I’m interested in researching the experiences of people with chronic non-cancer pain who live in regional areas compared to cities,” she said.

“I also can’t wait to take on more of a teaching role. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet in my career and I’d love to give USC students my insights into research, to help draw out their own passions for trying to solve the problems of the world.”

USC Head of School of Health and Sport Sciences Professor John Lowe said: “Gabrielle represents an addition of new health research capability at USC, which will benefit USC’s activities at the Sunshine Coast Health Institute (SCHI) and Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH).”

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