Addressing the Challenge of Emergency Department Analgesia: Innovation in the Use of Opioid Alternatives

J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2016 Sep;30(3):225-7. doi: 10.1080/15360288.2016.1209612. Epub 2016 Aug 19.


The current epidemic of opioid toxicity and deaths has led clinicians and policy-makers to explore alternatives to opioids for management of moderate to severe pain. One environment in which opioid use has been questioned is the emergency department (ED). This commentary addresses the proposal for "opioid-free EDs" and discusses the risk-to-benefit ratios of opioid and alternative pharmacotherapy for acutely injured patients requiring analgesia. The authors recognize that a truly opioid-free ED is not practical and that alternative analgesic approaches also carry risks. Innovations in managing pain in the ED are needed. But excessive restriction on opioid pharmacotherapy in emergency medicine carries the risk of replacing overprescribing with underprescribing of opioids. The commentary supports the need to establish a core of evidence to support efforts to increase the use of nonopioid and nonpharmacologic modalities for those suffering from pain.

Keywords: alternatives; emergency; harm; medicine; nonopioid; opioid; overdose.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Analgesics, Opioid