OPIOIDS NOT PROVEN TO HELP CHRONIC PAIN
Evidence indicates that opioids are less effective for persistent pain than acute pain.
Opioids may provide up to 30% reduction in persistent pain and are only helpful for
opioid sensitive (nociceptive) pain and only some neuropathic pain states. None of
the studies reviewed for opioid use in chronic pain ever lasted more than 16 weeks.
There are no randomised controlled trials on the long term effectiveness of opioid use
in chronic non-cancer pain. In a systematic review of 111 trials with administration of
opioids either orally or topically, only 4 studies evaluated effectiveness beyond 6
months. One evaluated tapentadol with weak positive evidence, the second
evaluated morphine with negative evidence, the third evaluated oxycodone with
negative evidence, and the fourth evaluated fentanyl and morphine with indeterminate
results.¹ Many pain medicine specialists now recommend a maximum of 100 mg
Morphine for 90 days only.
The daily dose of opioid among patients receiving opioids for non-malignant pain is
strongly associated with opioid-related mortality. More than 100mg of oral morphine
per day results in a two fold increase in the risk of death, more than 200mg results in
three fold risk increase.² Avoid using opioids with other sedative medication including
benzodiazepines, alcohol, cannabis and antihistamines.
Oxycontin has the highest demand for diversion in Australia. Injecting drug users in
Australia indicate more than 1 in 6 had used pharmaceutical drugs illicitly (i.e. using
medications not prescribed for them).³ Safer medication for chronic pain may be
Norspan patches or Targin.
HYPOTHALAMIC-PITUITARY AXIS SUPPRESSION
Opioids cause a decrease in various hormones including testosterone. This can
result in loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, infertility, muscle weakness, fluid retention,
osteoporosis and fractures.
Opioids contribute to depressed respiratory effort and exacerbation of sleep apnoea.
It is recommended that patients who require greater than 50mg methadone or 150mg
morphine equivalent per day should be referred for formal sleep apnoea
evaluation. It is also recommended to advise patients to decrease their daily opioid
doses by at least 30% during respiratory tract infection or asthmatic episodes for
There is a growing body of evidence that opioid use, especially longer term and
higher doses can make the pain experienced more severe. Weaning opioids may
lead to improved pain levels with less side effects.
Fact sheet Health Professional Information
Patients on long-term opioids therapy are often upset when they discover dental
caries and need for dentures were caused by opioid therapy.
Opioids increase risk for infection, and may contribute to malignancies.
IMPAIRED ABILITY TO DRIVE
Opioids cause cognitive slowing, adverse effect on mood, impaired concentration,
memory, driving ability and increased risk of falls. The SA Drugs of Dependence Unit
suggests formal driving test is needed for drivers using more than 200mg oral
morphine equivalent per day.
They also warn of risks mixing opioids and other
A side effect that does not resolve over time.
PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE AND WITHDRAWAL REACTIONS.
Many patients are reluctant to entertain the idea of weaning opioids simply because “I
never took them for a few days and then I really felt it”. This is a withdrawal reaction
and opioids can be weaned slowly and safely.
EFFECT ON MOOD AND MOTIVATION
Chronic non-malignant pain and depression are closely linked with one-half to two
thirds of people being less able or unable to exercise, enjoy normal sleep, perform
household chores, attend social activities, drive a car, walk or have sexual
intercourse. The risk of death by suicide seems also to be doubled in chronic pain
patients compared with controls. The treatment of chronic pain patients should
therefore encompass a multi-disciplinary approach addressing co morbid mental
health issues and teaching non medication strategies for dealing with pain and the
principles of pacing. This would include referral to psychologists and
physiotherapists. Opioids in such a group of patients can be counterproductive.³
Therefore consider weaning opioids by a rate of 10% every 1-2 weeks to minimise
side effects if the patient has persisting pain despite being on opioids.
Individual drugs have specific risks e.g. Methadone can prolong QT syndrome and
patients on Methadone should have an ECG to exclude this.
Manchikanti et al. Focussed Review - Effectiveness of Long-Term Opioid
Therapy for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain. Pain Physician 2011;14:E133-E156
Gomes T et al. Less is More - Opioid Dose and Drug-Related Mortality in
Patients With Nonmalignant Pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171 (7):686-691.
Prescription Opioid Policy. A publication by The Royal Australian College of
Physicians, Faculty of Pain Medicine ANZCA, The Royal Australian College
of General Practitioners and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College
L Webster. President’s Message (American Academy of Pain Medicine) –
Eight Principals for Safer Opioid Prescribing. Pain Medicine 2013;14: 959-
DASSA Website. Benzodiazepines , opioids and driving.
This article was copied directly form a SAhealth.gov.sa fact sheet. You can download the original from the sahealth.gov website here: Download fact sheet
You can download the pdif from the heal2live.com servers here: Download fact sheet
If you are concerned about the effects of opioids on your health and would like to find alternatives for your Chronic symptoms, we offer a membership package to help you get your health back using natural remedies as far as we can. We help you wean off your pharmaceutical medications with the help of your doctor. We also offer you a full overview of your lifestyle and help you implement a new strategy for your own health outcomes.