gms | German Medical Science

G-I-N Conference 2012

Guidelines International Network

22.08 - 25.08.2012, Berlin

Evidence of Effectiveness, Harms and Recommendations for Opioids for Chronic Pain

Meeting Abstract

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  • J. Harris - The Permanente Medical Group; American College of Occ and Environ Medicine, Mill Valley CA, USA
  • K. Hegmann - University of Utah; American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Guidelines International Network. G-I-N Conference 2012. Berlin, 22.-25.08.2012. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2012. DocP016

doi: 10.3205/12gin128, urn:nbn:de:0183-12gin1289

Published: July 10, 2012

© 2012 Harris et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



Background: Opioid prescription rates, and related emergency visits, fractures, adverse effects and mortality rates have risen sharply in the US over the last 10 years. Many clinicians are now seeking guidance about the appropriate use and risk to benefit balance of opioid treatment for chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP).

Objective: To assess and compare systematic reviews and guideline recommendations on the relative effectiveness, risks and management of opioids for chronic pain.

Methods: We searched major data bases for population studies, systematic reviews and guidelines on opioid use for CNCP. We identified four systematic reviews meeting inclusion criteria and six comprehensive guidelines which included systematic reviews. We compared methodologies, evidence syntheses and guidelines recommendations. We then identified areas for which guidance was insufficient.

Results: SRs revealed that efficacy studies with placebo comparisons lasted ≤3 months and produced low levels of pain relief. Retrospective cohort studies document high levels of psychiatric comorbidities and dose- and comorbidity-related adverse effects of opioids. Guidelines focused on containment of substance misuse but were not helpful regarding specific indications and use with psychiatric comorbidity.

Discussion: The efficacy and safety of opioids for chronic pain have not been substantiated in available studies. There are significant personal and public health problems associated with the increasing use of chronic opioids. Guidelines do not provide clear guidance for indications, patients with comorbidities, and risks of adverse effects.

Implications for guideline developers/users: More consistent, evidence-based prescribing patterns may improve effectiveness and patient safety. Research designs should be improved.