Pain management with opioids in adults

J Neurosci Res. 2022 Jan;100(1):10-18. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24695. Epub 2020 Aug 7.


Given the ubiquitous nature of opioids in the treatment of pain, it is an interesting paradox that this class of medications also represents one of the least understood components of clinical pain medicine. For many years, there has been intense interest in the mechanisms of opioid activity, but this has not resulted in a corresponding increase in convincing clinical data. This review focuses primarily on the evidence surrounding the long-term use of opioids in chronic pain, but discussions of this research are often conflated with the very different data governing acute and cancer-related pain, where evidence of efficacy is clearer. It is therefore important to clarify the evidence-based indications for opioid therapy. There remains very little evidence that opioids improve function or quality of life beyond 3 months in people with chronic pain conditions. In all three patient populations, the development of tolerance, dependence, hyperalgesia and withdrawal are key phenomena that affect the patient experience, and in particular the decision to remain on opioids in the long term. This is a common thread that connects the opioid literature in all of these spheres, and justifies the burgeoning interest in these phenomena in the basic science literature. There is an urgent need to address these negative consequences of opioid use, in order to maximize the therapeutic benefit that opioids can offer.

Keywords: analgesics; cancer pain; chronic pain; opioid; opioid-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Pain* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Pain Management
  • Quality of Life


  • Analgesics, Opioid