Significant pain reduction in chronic pain patients after detoxification from high-dose opioids

Michael J. Baron, MD, MPH, Paul W. McDonald, PhD


Opioid tolerance is a well-established phenomenon that often occurs in patients taking opioids for the treatment of chronic pain. Typically, doctors need to periodically elevate patients’ opioid doses in an attempt to manage their underlying pain conditions, resulting in escalating opioid levels with only moderate to negligible improvement in pain relief. Recently, opioid-induced hyperalgesia has been recognized as a potential form of central sensitization in which a patient’s pain level increases in parallel with elevation of his or her opioid dose. Here, we report a retrospective study of patients undergoing detoxification from high-dose opioids prescribed to treat an underlying chronic pain condition which had not resolved in the year prior. All patients were converted to ibuprofen to manage pain, with a subgroup treated with buprenorphine during detoxification. Selfreports for pain scores were taken at first evaluation, follow-up visits, and termination. Twenty-one of 23 patients reported a significant decrease in pain after detoxification, suggesting that high-dose opioids may contribute to pain sensitization via opioid-induced hyperalgesia, decreasing patient pain threshold and potentially masking resolution of the preexisting pain condition.


opioid, tolerance, hyperalgesia, sensitization, detoxification, buprenorphine

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