JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Morphine, gabapentin, or their combination for neuropathic pain

Ian Gilron, Joan M Bailey, Dongsheng Tu, Ronald R Holden, Donald F Weaver, Robyn L Houlden
New England Journal of Medicine 2005 March 31, 352 (13): 1324-34
15800228

BACKGROUND: The available drugs to treat neuropathic pain have incomplete efficacy and dose-limiting adverse effects. We compared the efficacy of a combination of gabapentin and morphine with that of each as a single agent in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy or postherpetic neuralgia.

METHODS: In this randomized, double-blind, active placebo-controlled, four-period crossover trial, patients received daily active placebo (lorazepam), sustained-release morphine, gabapentin, and a combination of gabapentin and morphine--each given orally for five weeks. The primary outcome measure was mean daily pain intensity in patients receiving a maximal tolerated dose; secondary outcomes included pain (rated according to the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire), adverse effects, maximal tolerated doses, mood, and quality of life.

RESULTS: Of 57 patients who underwent randomization (35 with diabetic neuropathy and 22 with postherpetic neuralgia), 41 completed the trial. Mean daily pain (on a scale from 0 to 10, with higher numbers indicating more severe pain) at a maximal tolerated dose of the study drug was as follows: 5.72 at baseline, 4.49 with placebo, 4.15 with gabapentin, 3.70 with morphine, and 3.06 with the gabapentin-morphine combination (P<0.05 for the combination vs. placebo, gabapentin, and morphine). Total scores on the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (on a scale from 0 to 45, with higher numbers indicating more severe pain) at a maximal tolerated dose were 14.4 with placebo, 10.7 with gabapentin, 10.7 with morphine, and 7.5 with the gabapentin-morphine combination (P<0.05 for the combination vs. placebo, gabapentin, and morphine). The maximal tolerated doses of morphine and gabapentin were lower (P<0.05) with the combination than for each drug as single agent. At the maximal tolerated dose, the gabapentin-morphine combination resulted in a higher frequency of constipation than gabapentin alone (P<0.05) and a higher frequency of dry mouth than morphine alone (P<0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Gabapentin and morphine combined achieved better analgesia at lower doses of each drug than either as a single agent, with constipation, sedation, and dry mouth as the most frequent adverse effects.

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