• Vol. 42 No. 3, 138–152
  • 15 March 2013

Evidence-Based Guidelines on the Use of Opioids in Chronic Non-Cancer Pain—A Consensus Statement by the Pain Association of Singapore Task Force



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Introduction: While opioids are effective in carefully selected patients with chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP), they are associated with potential risks. Therefore, treatment recommendations for the safe and effective use of opioids in this patient population are needed.

Materials and Methods: A multidisciplinary expert panel was convened by the Pain Association of Singapore to develop practical evidence-based recommendations on the use of opioids in the management of CNCP in the local population. This article discusses specifi c recommendations for various common CNCP conditions.

Results: Available data demonstrate weak evidence for the long-term use of opioids. There is moderate evidence for the short-term benefi t of opioids in certain CNCP conditions. Patients should be carefully screened and assessed prior to starting opioids. An opioid treatment agreement must be established, and urine drug testing may form part of this agreement. A trial duration of up to 2 months is necessary to determine efficacy, not only in terms of pain relief, but also to document improvement in function and quality of life. Regular reviews are essential with appropriate dose adjustments, if necessary, and routine assessment of analgesic efficacy, aberrant behaviour and adverse effects. The reasons for discontinuation of opioid therapy include side effects, lack of efficacy and aberrant drug behaviour.

Conclusion: Due to insufficient evidence, the task force does not recommend the use of opioids as first-line treatment for various CNCP. They can be used as second or third-line treatment, preferably as part of a multimodal approach. Additional studies conducted over extended periods are required.

Studies show that the incidence of chronic pain is approximately 18% in Australia and developed countries in Europe. In Asia, data from Hong Kong and Singapore indicate that chronic pain is experienced by about 10% of adults, with chronic pain being more common in women and older adults. In Singapore, the prevalence of chronic pain (pain for ≥3 out of the past 6 months) doubled to 19.7% in those above 65 years old.

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