Adjuvant analgesics

Med Clin North Am. 2007 Jan;91(1):113-24. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2006.10.007.


Chronic pain, whether arising from viscera, bone, or any other tissue or structure, is, more often than commonly thought, the result of a mixture of pain mechanisms, and therefore there is no simple formula available to manage chronic complex pain states. Box 1 summarizes a pharmacological algorithm for difficult-to-treat chronic pain, which merely introduces the medication aspect of the treatment. In effect, any comprehensive algorithm should call for an interdisciplinary approach that would include rehabilitation, as well as psychosocial, and when indicated, interventional techniques. Box 1 Analgesic algorithm for difficult-to-treat pain syndromes. Pharmacological Interventions. Moderate to severe pain/functional impairment; pain with a score of >4 on the brief pain inventory. 1. Gabapentinoid (gabapentin, pregabalin)+/-Opioid/opioid rotation or 2. Antidepressant (TCA, duloxetine, venlafaxine)+/-Opioid/opioid rotation or 3. Gabapentinoid+antidepressant+Opioid/opioid rotation; in addition, may consider trials of one or more of the following adjuvants when clinically appropriate: Topical therapies for cutaneous allodynia/hyperalgesia. Anti-inflammatory drugs (corticosteroids for acute inflammatory neuropathic pain)IV bisphosphonates for cancer bone pain or CRPS/RSDNon-gabapentinoid AEDs such as carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine or lamotrigine+/-baclofen for intermittent lancinating pain due to cranial neuralgiasNMDA antagonists Mexiletine On a compassionate basis, according to the patient's clinical condition and pain mechanism, the physician may want to consider an empirical trial of one or more of the emergent topical, oral or parenteral/intrathecal therapies as discussed in the text. If SMP, consider topical clonidine and sympatholytic interventions; if clinically feasible, trials of topical therapies, eg, lidocaine 5% patch, may be considered for a variety of pain states and features.The major rationale for introducing adjuvants is to better balance efficacy and adverse effects. The following scenarios should prompt the use of adjuvants in clinical practice: The toxic limit of a primary analgesic has been reached. The therapeutic benefit of a primary analgesic has plateaued, eg, treatment has reached its true efficacy limit or pharmachodynamic tolerance has developed. The primary analgesic is contraindicated, eg, substance abuse, aberrant behavior, organ failure, allergy, and so forth. Subjective and qualitative symptoms demand broader coverage. Patients often convey that different medications will impart distinct analgesic benefits. Presence of disabling nonpainful complaints and need to manage symptoms such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and fatigue that all cause worsening of the patient's quality of life and function. Physicians have also been drawn to the adjuvants secondary to new realities of clinical practice. Moreover, aversion to addiction and diversion remains a potent force that shapes prescribing profiles.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy*


  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic
  • Analgesics