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Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Oct;98(43):e17647. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017647.

Individual opioids, and long- versus short-acting opioids, for chronic noncancer pain: Protocol for a network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Author information

Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact.
Department of Anesthesia.
The Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care.
The Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Opioids are frequently prescribed for the management of patients with chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP). Previous meta-analyses of efficacy and harms have combined treatment effects across all opioids; however, specific opioids, pharmacokinetic properties (ie, long acting vs short acting), or the type of formulation (ie, immediate vs extended release) may be a source of heterogeneity for pooled effects.


We will conduct a network meta-analysis (NMA) of randomized controlled trials evaluating opioids for CNCP. We will acquire eligible studies through systematic searches of EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL). Eligible studies will have randomly allocated adult CNCP patients to an oral or transdermal opioid versus another type of opioid (or formulation) or placebo, and follow patients for ≥ 4 weeks. We will collect outcome data for pain intensity, physical function, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Pairs of reviewers will, independently and in duplicate, abstract data from eligible trials and assess risk of bias using a modified Cochrane tool. We will assess coherence of our networks through both a global test, and by comparing direct and indirect evidence for each comparison with node-splitting.


Using a frequentist approach, we will conduct random effects multiple treatment meta-analysis to establish treatment effects of individual opioids for each outcome. The certainty of evidence for pooled treatment effects will be assessed using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach. We will categorize interventions from most to least effective based on the effect estimates obtained from NMAs and their associated certainty of evidence, as follows: superior to both placebo and alternatives; superior to placebo, but inferior to alternatives; and no better than placebo.


This NMA will determine the relative effectiveness and adverse effects of individual opioids among patients with CNCP. Our results will help inform the appropriateness of assuming similar beneficial and adverse effects of varying opioid formulations.


This systematic review is registered with Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews, an international prospective register of systematic reviews (registration no.: CRD42018110331), available at

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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