The use of long-acting opioids in chronic pain management

April Hazard Vallerand
Nursing Clinics of North America 2003, 38 (3): 435-45
The consensus statement from the American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine states that the undertreatment of pain is unjustified [6]. It has been suggested that opioid therapy can be used effectively to treat noncancer pain in a subset of patients [26], and this is becoming more acceptable [3]. Providing sustained analgesia is an important aspect of therapy, and medications should be administered on an around-the-clock basis, because regular administration of doses maintains a constant level of drug in the body and helps prevent recurrence of pain. Ideal treatment for persistent pain is a long-acting opioid administered around the clock to prevent baseline pain, with the use of short-acting opioids as supplemental agents for breakthrough pain. Controlled-release formulations can lessen the inconvenience associated with around-the-clock administration of short-acting opioids. Sustained analgesia also can be achieved with transdermal fentanyl, which combines a strong opioid with a 72-hour release profile and the benefits of a parenteral route, avoiding first-pass metabolism. Controlled-release formulations of morphine and oxycodone are available in the United States, and hydromorphone preparations are being reviewed for approval. Clinical experience with these formulations and transdermal fentanyl indicates that these agents are equally effective in controlling pain. Studies have demonstrated improved quality of life with the transdermal route and with controlled-release morphine and oxycodone. Because of patch reapplication every 72 hours, the transdermal route also enhances compliance. Use of an opioid without the need for oral or intravenous administration and the opportunity to improve compliance are among the advantages of the transdermal route in clinical practice. The nurse has an important role in the management of patients receiving long-acting opioids for chronic noncancer pain, Facilitation of the conversion from short-acting to long-acting opioids may be the initial step. Individualization of therapy to determine which route and product best suits the patient's needs and lifestyle can be accomplished through a comprehensive nursing assessment. Titration of dose along with institution of a short-acting opioid for break-through pain may require frequent interventions that a nurse familiar with the patient can provide. Prevention and management of opioid-related adverse events are essential for effective opioid therapy. Providing patient and family education regarding administration, monitoring, and management of opioid therapy is an important nursing role. Lastly, documentation of pain level, functional status, and opioid-related adverse events is required for each contact with the patient, to make this information available to all who assist in the management of the patient's pain. Chronic noncancer pain is an experience that affects all aspects of a patient's life. Effective pain management with long-acting opioids may help the patient to focus on the positive aspects of life, decreasing the focus on pain.

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