Intracerebroventricular opioids for intractable pain

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Jul;74(1):34-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04201.x.


When pain is refractory to systemic opioid and non-opioid analgesic therapy and palliative chemoradiation or ablative or stimulant neurosurgical procedures are not possible, palliative treatment becomes limited, particularly if the patient wishes to be at home at the end of life. Intracerebroventricular (ICV) infusion of morphine in the home setting might be presented as an option. The present article reviews the basic and clinical evidence of the efficacy and safety of ICV administration of opioids. Information was gathered from various bibliographic sources, including PubMed and others, and summarized and evaluated to assess the efficacy and safety of ICV opioids for pain relief. Results from ICV infusion of morphine into terminally ill patients refractory to other pain treatments have been reported since the early 1980s. Good efficacy has been achieved for the vast majority of patients, without serious development of analgesic tolerance. There have also been a low incidence of adverse effects, such as constipation and respiratory depression, and a significant retention of alertness associated with this route of administration. Intracerebroventricular infusion of opioid analgesics thus appears to be a safe and effective therapy for the palliative treatment of refractory pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intraventricular / methods
  • Pain, Intractable / drug therapy*
  • Palliative Care
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Analgesics, Opioid