Simulated opioid choice linked to opioid use disorder severity among veterans with chronic pain: initial validation of a novel paradigm

Apurva Parikh, Scott J. Moeller, Eric L. Garland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Modeling addictive behavior among individuals with, or at risk for, opioid use disorder (OUD) in a way that is accurate, ethical, and reproducible presents a pressing concern. OUD risk is elevated among people with chronic pain on long-term opioid therapy (LTOT). Objectives: To provide initial validation of a novel opioid preference task as an index of OUD and its symptomatology among veterans prescribed opioids for chronic pain, a population at high risk for poor opioid-related outcomes. The relative ease by which such a paradigm can be implemented and performed in clinical contexts, including enabling investigation of opioid reinforcement and drug-seeking behavior while avoiding ethical pitfalls associated with direct drug administration, could make this task an attractive approach for potentially tracking OUD symptoms. Methods: We studied 87 veterans (74 males, 13 females) on LTOT for chronic pain–33 of whom had OUD diagnoses. Participants completed a picture-viewing choice task to assess preference for viewing opioid-related images in comparison with standardized pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, and blank images. Opioid-related choice, measured by vigor of button pressing, was tested for association with OUD severity (measured by symptom counts), as well as craving and anhedonia. Results: Choice for opioid-related images was positively correlated with OUD severity (i.e., number of DSM-5 measured OUD symptoms) (r = 0.38, p < .001), particularly among those meeting diagnostic criteria for OUD (r = 0.47, p = .006). Neither craving nor anhedonia correlated with opioid-related choice. Conclusions: Our results provide initial validation for a new opioid picture-choice paradigm in patients with chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-412
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Opioid use disorder
  • anhedonia
  • chronic pain
  • craving
  • drug choice


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