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Pain Med. 2002 Sep;3(3):260-71.

Evidence for and against the use of opioid analgesics for chronic nonmalignant low back pain: a review.

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Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.



Opioid analgesics are very effective for treating pain, but their chronic use in nonmalignant conditions is controversial. Low back pain is a common condition, and chronic low back pain (CLBP) is the most frequent regional pain syndrome in the United States. This article reviews the evidence for and against the use of chronic opioid analgesic therapy (COAT) for patients with CLBP unrelated to cancer.


A literature review was conducted looking for reports of oral or transdermal opioid analgesic therapy for CLBP.


There are very few randomized controlled trials of COAT for CLBP. The scant evidence that is available suggests that over the short-term, COAT is helpful with patients with CLBP. In the published reports, most of which are brief in duration, COAT is associated with moderate side effects but a low risk of abuse or drug addiction. COAT was not associated with adverse long-term sequelae. Longer-acting opioid analgesics may be preferable to shorter-acting agents. Patient selection and close follow-up are critical to good outcomes.


There is a place for the use of chronic oral or transdermal opioid analgesics in the treatment of some patients with CLBP.

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