Background: We updated a systematic review on the comparative efficacy, tolerability and safety of opioids and of their routes of application in chronic noncancer pain (CNCP).
Methods: We screened MEDLINE, Scopus and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) up until October 2013, as well as the reference sections of original studies and systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of opioids in CNCP. We included randomized head-to-head comparisons of opioids (opioid of the sponsor of the study versus standard opioid) of at least 4 week's duration. Using a random effects model, absolute risk differences (RD) were calculated for categorical data and standardized mean differences (SMD) for continuous variables. The quality of evidence was rated by the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.
Results: We included 13 RCTs with 6748 participants. Median study duration was 15 weeks (range 4-56 weeks). Hydromorphone, morphine, oxymorphone and tapentadol were compared to oxycodone; fentanyl to morphine and buprenorphine to tramadol. In pooled analysis, there were no significant differences between the two groups of opioids in terms of mean pain reduction (low-quality evidence), the patient global impression to be much or very much improved outcome (low-quality evidence), physical function (very low-quality evidence), serious adverse events (moderate-quality evidence) or mortality (moderate-quality evidence). There was no significant difference between transdermal and oral application of opioids in terms of mean pain reduction, physical function, serious adverse events, mortality (all low-quality evidence) or dropout due to adverse events (very low-quality).
Conclusion: Pooled head-to-head comparisons of opioids (opioid of the sponsor of the study versus standard opioid) provide no rational for preferring one opioid and/or administration route over another in the therapy of patients with CNCP. The English full-text version of this article is freely available at SpringerLink (under "Supplemental").