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Palliat Med. 2011 Jul;25(5):494-503. doi: 10.1177/0269216310384902.

European Palliative Care Research Collaborative pain guidelines: opioid switching to improve analgesia or reduce side effects. A systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway.


According to a Cochrane review on opioid switching, sound evidence on the practice of substituting one strong opioid with another to improve pain control and reduce adverse effects was lacking in 2004. A systematic search strategy was developed to include studies after 2004, with adult cancer patients switching between strong opioids and reporting estimates of effect on pain and adverse effects. The search retrieved 288 publications (71 duplicates); 187 abstracts and 19 full papers were excluded. Eleven papers met the inclusion criteria; none were randomized controlled trials/meta-analyses. Studies comprised 280 patients (group size 10-32). A variety of opioids and switching strategies were studied. Pain intensity was significantly reduced in the majority of studies. Serious adverse effects were improved. Due to serious design limitations, the level of evidence was low (D). Randomized trials, with standardization of cohort classification, use of outcomes and analysis are warranted to establish the practice of opioid switching.

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