Opioids for neuropathic pain

  • Eisenberg E
  • McNicol E
  • Carr D
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BACKGROUND: The use of opioids for neuropathic pain remains controversial. Studies have been small, have yielded equivocal results, and have not established the long-term risk-benefit ratio of this treatment.OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy and safety of opioid agonists for the treatment of neuropathic pain.SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2nd Quarter 2005), MEDLINE (1966 to June 2005), and EMBASE (1980 to 2005 Week 27) for articles in any language, and reference lists of reviews and retrieved articles.SELECTION CRITERIA: Trials were included in which opioid agonists were given to treat central or peripheral neuropathic pain of any etiology, pain was assessed using validated instruments, and adverse events were reported. Studies in which drugs other than opioid agonists were combined with opioids or opioids were administered epidurally or intrathecally were excluded.DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted by two independent investigators and included demographic variables, diagnoses, interventions, efficacy, and adverse effects.MAIN RESULTS: Twenty-three trials met the inclusion criteria and were classified as short-term (less than 24 hours; n = 14) or intermediate-term (median = 28 days; range = eight to 70 days; n = 9). The short-term trials had contradictory results. In contrast all nine intermediate-term trials demonstrated opioid efficacy for spontaneous neuropathic pain. Meta-analysis of seven intermediate-term studies showed mean post-treatment visual analog scale scores of pain intensity after opioids to be 13 points lower on a scale from zero to 100 than after placebo (95% confidence interval -16 to -9; P < 0.00001). The most common adverse events were nausea (33% opioid versus 9% control: number needed to treat to harm (NNH) 4.2) and constipation (33% opioid versus 10% control: NNH 4.2), followed by drowsiness (29% opioid versus 12% control: NNH 6.2), dizziness (21% opioid versus 6% control: NNH 7.1), and vomiting (15% opioid versus 3% control: NNH 8.3). Where reported, 23 (11%) of 212 participants withdrew because of adverse events during opioid therapy versus nine (4%) of 202 receiving placebo.AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Short-term studies provide only equivocal evidence regarding the efficacy of opioids in reducing the intensity of neuropathic pain, whereas intermediate-term studies demonstrate significant efficacy of opioids over placebo, which is likely to be clinically important. Reported adverse events of opioids are common but not life threatening. Further randomized controlled trials are needed to establish long-term efficacy, safety (including addiction potential), and effects on quality of life.




Eisenberg, E., McNicol, E. D., & Carr, D. B. (2006). Opioids for neuropathic pain. In Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd006146

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