Low-dose oral naloxone reverses opioid-induced constipation and analgesia

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2002 Jan;23(1):48-53. doi: 10.1016/s0885-3924(01)00369-4.


The most common side effect of opioid therapy is constipation. It is often difficult to treat and is believed to be primarily a peripheral effect. Single large doses of oral naloxone have been shown to be efficacious in reversing opioid-induced constipation. However, they often cause the unwanted side effect of analgesia reversal. This study evaluated the effects on constipation and analgesia of low doses of oral naloxone given three times daily. Patients taking stable doses of opioids with complaints of constipation were recruited for this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Patients were given 4 mg or 2 mg of oral naloxone, or placebo, three times daily. Stool frequency and symptoms related to constipation were recorded daily. Patients also recorded the daily amount of analgesics required to maintain pain control. Nine patients were recruited for the study. All the patients who received oral naloxone had some improvement in their bowel frequency. Three of the patients also experienced reversal of analgesia, including one who had complete reversal of analgesia. This study demonstrates that reversal of analgesia still occurred despite dividing the oral naloxone into very low doses relative to the total dose of opioid used. Patients using high doses of opioids appear to be the most vulnerable to the analgesic effect of oral naloxone.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesia*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Constipation / chemically induced*
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naloxone / administration & dosage*
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pilot Projects


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naloxone