Objective: To review pertinent controlled trials using the continuous subcutaneous infusion of opioids (CSIO) at end-of-life and offer insight to pharmacists and clinicians into the appropriate use of this route of administration.
Data sources: A MEDLINE search for information regarding the subcutaneous administration of opioids in terminally ill patients (1975-December 2002) was conducted using the key words subcutaneous, narcotics, morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, pain, hospices, and palliative care. Additional references were located through review of bibliographies of the articles cited. Case reports and postsurgical studies were excluded. Searches were limited to English-language studies using humans.
Study selection and data extraction: Experimental and observational studies were evaluated, using prospective trials as the evidence base for conclusions and including pertinent retrospective trials as they relate to the subcutaneous infusion of opioids at end-of-life.
Data synthesis: CSIO is effective and safe for use in terminal illness. Appropriate situations for consideration of CSIO are when difficulties arise in using the oral route, standard oral opiate therapy has failed adequate trials, the patient has limited intravenous access, adequate supervision of the CSIO is present, and CSIO will not unduly limit the functional activity of the patient.
Conclusions: CSIO has a proven role in the management of pain at end-of-life. CSIO should not be considered the first route for administration of opiates, but does offer distinct advantages in the appropriate setting. CSIO continues to be a choice for end-of-life patients and is gradually becoming a standard practice in palliative medicine.