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Joint Bone Spine. 2015 Dec;82(6):397-401. doi: 10.1016/j.jbspin.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Oct 6.

Strong opioids for noncancer pain due to musculoskeletal diseases: Not more effective than acetaminophen or NSAIDs.

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Service de rhumatologie, Hôtel-Dieu, CHU de Nantes, place Alexis-Ricordeau, 44093 Nantes cedex 01, France. Electronic address:
Service de rhumatologie, Hôtel-Dieu, CHU de Nantes, place Alexis-Ricordeau, 44093 Nantes cedex 01, France.


The classification of morphine as a step III analgesic, based on pharmacological data, creates a strong bias toward a belief in the efficacy of this drug. However, double-blind emergency-room trials showed similar levels of pain relief with intravenous acetaminophen as with intravenous morphine in patients with renal colic, low back pain or acute limb pain. In patients with chronic noncancer low back pain, morphine and other strong opioids in dosages of up to 100mg/day were only slightly more effective than their placebos, no more effective than acetaminophen, and somewhat less effective than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In patients with osteoarthritis, strong opioids were not more effective than NSAIDs and, in some studies, than placebos. The only randomized controlled trial in patients with sciatica found no difference with the placebo. Chronic use of strong opioids can induce hyperalgesia in some patients. Hyperpathia with increased sensitivity to cold leading the patient to request higher dosages should suggest opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Pain specialists in the US have issued a petition asking that strong opioids be used in dosages no higher than 100mg/day of morphine-equivalent, in an effort to decrease the high rate of mortality due to the misuse and abuse of strong opioids (10,000 deaths/year in the US). Healthcare providers often overestimate the efficacy of step III analgesics, despite pain score decreases of only 0.8 to 1.2 points.


Acetaminophen; Efficacy; Low back pain; Morphine; Morphine derivatives; Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; Opioids; Osteoarthritis; Pain; Paracetamol; Placebo

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