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Surg Neurol Int. 2013 Mar 22;4(Suppl 2):S51-7. doi: 10.4103/2152-7806.109424. Print 2013.

Randomized trial demonstrates that extended-release epidural morphine may provide safe pain control for lumbar surgery patients.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, URMC Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, 601 Elmwood Ave, USA.



Safe and effective postoperative pain control remains an issue in complex spine surgery. Spinal narcotics have been used for decades but have not become commonplace because of safety or re-dosing concerns. An extended release epidural morphine (EREM) preparation has been used successfully in obstetric, abdominal, thoracic, and extremity surgery done with epidural anesthesia. This has not been studied in open spinal surgery.


Ninety-eight patients having complex posterior lumbar surgery were enrolled in a partially randomized clinical trial (PRCT) of low to moderate doses of EREM. Surgery included levels from L3 to S1 with procedures involving combinations of decompression, instrumented arthrodesis, and interbody grafting. The patients were randomized to receive either 10 or 15 mg of EREM through an epidural catheter placed under direct vision at the conclusion of surgery. Multiple safety measures were employed to prevent or detect respiratory depression. Postoperative pain scores, narcotic utilization, and adverse events were recorded.


There were no significant differences between the two groups as to supplemental narcotic requirements, pain scores, or adverse events. There were no cases of respiratory depression. The epidural narcotic effect persisted from 3 to 36 hours after the injection.


By utilizing appropriate safety measures, EREM can be used safely for postoperative pain control in lumbar surgery patients. As there was no apparent advantage to the use of 15 mg, the lower 10 mg dose should be used.


Epidural morphine; extended-release; lumbar; pain control; postoperative; surgery

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