Pharmacologic management of pain in children and adolescents

Pediatr Clin North Am. 1989 Aug;36(4):855-71. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(16)36725-6.


In the management of chronic pain conditions, the combination of pharmacologic measures with physical and psychologic modalities becomes even more important. A pain clinic and pain consultation service are one model that facilitates this combined approach. Initial management of mild to moderate pain begins with nonopioid analgesics such as acetaminophen and NSAIDs. Persistent severe pain of a neuropathic character merits careful trials of antidepressants or anticonvulsants. Traditionally, use of opioids for chronic pain not due to cancer has been discouraged for adults as well as children. Recently, this view was challenged by reports by Portenoy and Foley and by Taub, who followed a group of adults with chronic pain due to a variety of conditions. They found that the majority of these patients, if managed with opioids on a regular schedule as part of an overall treatment program, could be made comfortable and were able to increase their level of functioning for several years. In general, dosage escalation and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors were not seen. Since this report was retrospective and did not involve children, caution must be applied in extrapolating these findings to children. For example, remarkably little is known about the effects of chronic opioid administration in childhood on growth and development. Certainly, this issue deserves further study before general recommendations can be made. It seems prudent to emphasize the importance of maximizing nonpharmacologic and nonopioid approaches in the management of chronic pain in children prior to embarking on long-term use of opioids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage
  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use
  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Salicylates / administration & dosage
  • Salicylates / adverse effects
  • Salicylates / therapeutic use
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Salicylates
  • Acetaminophen