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Eur J Pain. 2001;5(3):333-9.

Opioids in non-cancer pain: a life-time sentence?

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  • 1Department of Neurology and Neurophysiology, Saint Joseph Hospital, P.O. Box 7777, 5500 MB Veldhoven, Netherlands.


There is continuing reluctance to prescribe strong opioids for the management of chronic non-cancer pain due to concerns about side-effects, physical tolerance, withdrawal and addiction. Randomized controlled trials have now provided evidence for the efficacy of opioids against both nociceptive and neuropathic pain. However, there is considerable variability in response rates, possibly depending on the type of pain, the type of opioid and its route of administration, the time to follow-up, compliance and the development of tolerance. Five patients were selected with nociceptive or neuropathic pain in whom other pharmacological or physical therapies had failed to provide satisfactory pain relief. They received transdermal fentanyl (starting dose 25 microg/h) for at least 6 weeks. Transdermal fentanyl dosage was titrated upwards as required. Transdermal fentanyl provided adequate pain relief in patients with nociceptive pain (diabetic ulcer, osteoporotic vertebral fracture, ankylosing spondylitis) or neuropathic pain with a nociceptive component (radicular pain due to disc protrusion, herpetic neuralgia). The duration of treatment ranged from 6 weeks to 6 months for four cases. In the case of ankylosing spondylitis, treatment was carried out for 2 years, stopped and then restarted successfully. There were no withdrawal effects or addictive behaviour on treatment cessation, regardless of duration of the treatment. In conclusion, strong opioids may provide prolonged effective pain relief in selected patients with nociceptive and neuropathic non-cancer pain. Transdermal fentanyl treatment can often be temporary and can easily be stopped following adequate pain relief without withdrawal effects or any evidence of addictive behaviour.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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