Opioid equianalgesic tables: are they all equally dangerous?

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Sep;38(3):409-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.06.004.


Pain is one of the most common symptoms in cancer patients. Opioids are widely prescribed for this and other purposes. Properly used, they are safe, but they have serious and potentially lethal side effects. Successful use of opioids to manage cancer pain requires adequate knowledge about opioid pharmacology and equianalgesia for the purpose of both drug rotation and route conversion. The aim of this study was to demonstrate variations in equianalgesic ratios, as quoted in equianalgesic tables and various educational materials widely available to practicing physicians. We surveyed commercially available educational materials in package inserts, teaching materials provided by pharmaceutical companies, and the Physicians' Desk Reference for equianalgesic tables of commonly used opioids. We found inconsistent and variable equianalgesic ratios recommended for both opioid rotation and conversion. Multiple factors like inter- and intraindividual differences in opioid pharmacology may influence the accuracy of dose calculations, as does the heterogeneity of study design used to derive equianalgesic ratios. Equianalgesic tables should only serve as a general guideline to estimate equivalent opioid doses. Clinical judgment should be used and individual patient characteristics considered when applying any table. Professional organizations and regulators should establish a rotation and conversion consensus concerning opioid equianalgesic ratios. Systematic research on equianalgesic opioid dose calculation is recommended to avoid adverse public health consequences of incorrect or inappropriate dosing. Current information in equianalgesic tables is confusing for physicians, and dangerous to the public.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Drug Labeling
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Parenteral
  • Internet
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / adverse effects
  • Morphine / therapeutic use
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Patient Education as Topic


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine