Long- or short-acting opioids for chronic non-malignant pain? A qualitative systematic review

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2014 Apr;58(4):390-401. doi: 10.1111/aas.12279.


In selected patients with chronic non-malignant pain, chronic opioid therapy is indicated. Published guidelines recommend long-acting over short-acting opioids in these patients. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate whether long-acting opioids in chronic non-malignant pain are superior to short-acting opioids in pain relief, physical function, sleep quality, quality of life or adverse events. This review was performed according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement. PubMed, Embase and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched for relevant trials up to July 2012. Reference lists of included trials and relevant reviews were in addition searched by hand. Of the 1168 identified publications, 6 randomised trials evaluating efficacy and safety filled the criteria for inclusion. None of them found a significantly better pain relief, significantly less consumption of rescue analgesia, improved quality of sleep or improved physical function from long-acting opioids. None of the trials investigated quality of life. None of the trials investigated adverse events properly nor addiction, tolerance or hyperalgesia. Three trials in healthy volunteers with a recreational drug use, found no difference in abuse potential between long- and short-acting opioids. While long term, comparative data are lacking, there is fair evidence from short-term trials that long-acting opioids provide equal pain relief compared with short-acting opioids. Contrary to several guidelines, there is no evidence supporting long-acting opioids superiority to short-acting ones in improving functional outcomes, reducing side effects or addiction.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Delayed-Action Preparations*
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Pain Management
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk
  • Sleep / physiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Delayed-Action Preparations