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Clin Chim Acta. 2014 Feb 15;429:26-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2013.11.015. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Hydrocodone in postoperative personalized pain management: pro-drug or drug?

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Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, USA.
Dept. of Lab Medicine and Pathology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA.
Dept. of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, USA.
Dept. of Epidemiology and Population Health, University of Louisville, Louisville, USA.
Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, USA. Electronic address:



Genetic variations in enzymes that produce active metabolites from pro-drugs are well known. Such variability could account for some of the clinically observed differences in analgesia and side effects seen in postoperative patients. Using genotyping and quantitation of serum concentrations of hydrocodone and its metabolites, we sought to demonstrate the clinical effects of the metabolites of hydrocodone on pain relief. The objective of the current study was to determine whether CYP2D6 genotype and serum hydromorphone levels account for some of the variability in pain relief seen with hydrocodone in a cohort of women post-Cesarean section.


In 156 post-Cesarean section patients who received hydrocodone, we assessed serum opioid concentrations and CYP2D6 genotypes. Blood samples were collected at that time for genotyping and determination of concentrations of hydrocodone and metabolites by LC-MS/MS. Multivariate analysis was used to determine the relationship between CYP2D6 genotypes, pain relief, side effects, and serum concentrations of hydrocodone and hydromorphone.


The CYP2D6 genotyping results indicated that 60% of subjects were extensive, 30% intermediate, 3% poor, and 7% ultra-rapid metabolizers. In the poor metabolizers, the mean plasma hydromorphone concentration was 8-fold lower when compared to that of ultra-rapid metabolizers. Hydromorphone, and not hydrocodone concentrations correlated with pain relief.


This study shows that hydromorphone is generated at substantially different rates, dependent on CYP2D6 genotype. Pain relief correlated with plasma concentrations of hydromorphone, and not with hydrocodone. This suggests that pain relief will vary with CYP2D6 genotype. Inability to metabolize hydrocodone to hydromorphone as seen in the poor metabolizers should alert the clinician to consider alternative medications for managing pain postoperatively.


CYP2D6; Hydrocodone; Hydromorphone; Pain management

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