Sublingual Buprenorphine Is Effective in the Treatment of Chronic Pain Syndrome

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Many patients with chronic pain have less than optimal therapeutic outcomes after prolonged treatment with opiate analgesics. Worsening of pain perception, functional capacity, and mood often result. Medical detoxification is often undertaken in this situation. Ninety-five consecutive patients (49 men and 46 women; age range, 26-84) with chronic noncancer pain (maldynia) were referred by local pain clinics for detoxification from long-term opiate analgesic (LTOA) therapy. All patients had failed treatment as manifest by increasing pain levels, worsening functional capacity, and, in 8%, the emergence of opiate addiction. Length of prior LTOA therapy ranged from 1.5 to 27 years (mean, 8.8 years). After a minimum of 12 hours of abstinence from all opiate analgesics, patients were given low doses of sublingual (SL) buprenorphine or buprenorphine/naloxone (Reckitt Benckiser). Maintenance dosing was individualized to treat chronic pain. Daily SL dose of buprenorphine ranged from 4 to 16 mg (mean, 8 mg) in divided doses. Mean duration of treatment is 8.8 months (range, 2.4-16.6 months). At clinic appointments, patients were assessed for pain reports, functional capacity, and mood inventory. Eighty-six percent of patients experienced moderate to substantial relief of pain accompanied by both improved mood and functioning. Patient and family satisfaction was robust. Only 6 patients discontinued therapy secondary to side effects and/or exacerbation of pain. In this open-label study, SL buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone were well tolerated and safe and appeared to be effective in the treatment of chronic pain patients refractory to LTOA.

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