Efficacy, tolerability, and dose-dependent effects of opioid analgesics for low back pain a systematic review and meta-analysis

Christina Abdel Shaheed, Chris G. Maher, Kylie A. Williams, Richard Day, Andrew J. McLachlan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

IMPORTANCE Opioid analgesics are commonly used for low back pain, however, to our knowledge there has been no systematic evaluation of the effect of opioid dose and use of enrichment study design on estimates of treatment effect. OBJECTIVE To evaluate efficacy and tolerability of opioids in the management of back pain; and investigate the effect of opioid dose and use of an enrichment study design on treatment effect. DATA SOURCES Medline, EMBASE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, and PsycINFO (inception to September 2015) with citation tracking from eligible randomized clinical trials (RCTs). STUDY SELECTION Placebo-controlled RCTs in any language. DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS Two authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias. Data were pooled using a random effects model with strength of evidence assessed using the grading of recommendations assessment, development, and evaluation (GRADE). MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES The primary outcome measurewas pain. Pain and disability outcomes were converted to a common 0 to 100 scale, with effects greater than 20 points considered clinically important. RESULTS Of 20 included RCTs of opioid analgesics (with a total of 7925 participants), 13 trials (3419 participants) evaluated short-term effects on chronic low back pain, and no placebo-controlled trials enrolled patients with acute low back pain. In half of these 13 trials, at least 50% of participants withdrew owing to adverse events or lack of efficacy. There was moderate-quality evidence that opioid analgesics reduce pain in the short term; mean difference (MD), -10.1 (95%CI, -12.8 to -7.4). Meta-regression revealed a 12.0 point greater pain relief for every 1 log unit increase in morphine equivalent dose (P = .046). Clinically important pain relief was not observed within the dose range evaluated (40.0-240.0-mg morphine equivalents per day). There was no significant effect of enrichment study design. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE For people with chronic low back pain who tolerate the medicine, opioid analgesics provide modest short-term pain relief but the effect is not likely to be clinically important within guideline recommended doses. Evidence on long-term efficacy is lacking. The efficacy of opioid analgesics in acute low back pain is unknown.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)958-968
Number of pages11
JournalJAMA Internal Medicine
Volume176
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

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