Katherine Elida Warren

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Harvard U.

Grant number

Gr. 10038

Approve Date

August 26, 2020

Project Title

Warren, Katherine (Harvard U.) "Chronic Pain and the Opioid Overdose Crisis: Pharmaceuticals and the Political Economy of Care"

This research explores opioids in the experience of chronic pain treatment during a declared opioid overdose crisis in the United States. It focuses on an intervention to reduce opioid prescribing called the Pain Board, a hospital-wide multidisciplinary group styled after oncological “tumor boards.” Funded by federal grant money, the Pain Board is tasked with predicting, surveilling, and addressing the risk of opioid addiction — called opioid use disorder in the medical literature — among patients with chronic pain treated with opioid analgesia. This project, based on 12 months of ethnographic research in an academic medical center, will explore the experiences of patients, providers, and bureaucrats as they attempt to navigate the moral, legal, and regulatory landscapes of chronic pain in the primary care setting. By attending to how opioids travel between therapeutic pharmaceuticals and drugs of “abuse,” this project seeks to understand how lines of urgency, legibility, and solidarity are drawn around chronic pain through divisions of race, gender, class, and geography. Drawing from the anthropologies of pharmaceuticals and the political economy of care, it explores critical questions about how pain and pleasure are made institutionally legible, with careful attention to the prescribers and policymakers who produce much of this visibility.