An ethnographic study of opioid use disorder in rural Maine: The problem of pain

  • Weronika Grabowska | Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA; College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME, United States.
  • Selma Holden University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Biddeford, ME, United States.
  • Peter M Wayne Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
  • Karen Kilgore School of Special Education, School Psychology and Early Childhood Studies, University of Florida, FL, United States.


This qualitative study was conducted to more fully understand health care providers and community leaders’ perceptions of the opioid crisis in rural Maine. In 2017, Maine continued to have one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in the country, more than double the national average. I (first author) visited eight treatment centers in Maine providing support and treatment to people recovering form Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), shadowing health care providers. I also attended OUD-related meetings held with community leaders. I conducted a total of 33 semi-structured interviews with health care providers, community leaders, and NGOs in the state of Maine. Three themes emerged integrating observations with semi-structured interviews: i) Impact of emergence of new extended release opioids, their prescription patterns, and culture around them; ii) Subjectivity of pain and importance of understanding psychic injury in OUD treatment; iii) Socio-political context and perception of OUD in Maine. Our society’s perception of pain has deep historical and cultural sources that influence the way that pain has been perceived and treated in the medical setting. Resources beyond the medical environment are needed to address pain adequately.



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Original Articles
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), rural health, ethnography
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How to Cite
Grabowska, Weronika, Selma Holden, Peter M Wayne, and Karen Kilgore. 2021. “An Ethnographic Study of Opioid Use Disorder in Rural Maine: The Problem of Pain”. Qualitative Research in Medicine and Healthcare 4 (3).