Send to

Choose Destination
Pain. 1990 Dec;43(3):273-86.

The nature of opioid responsiveness and its implications for neuropathic pain: new hypotheses derived from studies of opioid infusions.

Author information

Dept. of Neurology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021.


In recent years, the observation that the response of patients to opioid drugs may be influenced by properties inherent in the pain or pain syndrome, such as its pathophysiology, has evolved into the belief that certain types of pain, e.g., neuropathic pains, may be unresponsive to these drugs. This concept has important implications for both clinical practice and basic understanding of opioid mechanisms. We critically evaluate opioid responsiveness, particularly as it relates to neuropathic pain, and propose a clinically relevant definition and a paradigm for its investigation. The paradigm is illustrated by analgesic responses to opioid infusion in 28 patients with neuropathic pains and by a detailed presentation of the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic relationships in one of these patients, whose central pain responded promptly to an infusion of hydromorphone. From this analysis, we hypothesize that (1) opioid responsiveness in man can be defined by the degree of analgesia achieved during dose escalation to either intolerable side effects or the occurrence of 'complete' or 'adequate' analgesia; (2) opioid responsiveness is a continuum, rather than a quantal phenomenon; (3) opioid responsiveness is determined by a diverse group of patient characteristics and pain-related factors, as well as drug-selective effects; and (4) a neuropathic mechanism may reduce opioid responsiveness, but does not result in an inherent resistance to these drugs. Given the complexity of factors contributing to opioid responsiveness and the observation that outcome cannot be reliably predicted, opioids should not be withheld on the assumption that pain mechanism, or any other factor, precludes a favorable response. Both the clinical use of opioids and paradigms to investigate opioid responsiveness should include dose escalation to maximally tolerated levels and repeated monitoring of analgesia and other effects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wolters Kluwer
Loading ...
Support Center