Peripheral opioid receptor blockade increases postoperative morphine demands—A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial


Experimental studies suggest that a large proportion of opioid analgesia can be mediated by peripheral opioid receptors. This trial examined the contribution of such receptors to clinical analgesia induced by intravenous morphine. We hypothesized that the selective blockade of peripheral opioid receptors by methylnaltrexone (MNX) would increase the patients’ demand for morphine to achieve satisfactory postoperative pain relief. In a double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, sequential 2‐center trial, 50 patients undergoing knee replacement surgery were randomized (1:1) to receive either subcutaneous MNX (0.9 mg/kg) (hospital I: n = 14; hospital II: n = 11) or saline (hospital I: n = 13; hospital II: n = 12) at the end of surgery. The primary endpoint was the cumulative amount of intravenous morphine administered during the first 8 hours. Secondary endpoints were pain scores at rest and during movement (by numerical rating scale and McGill Questionnaire), vital signs, adverse side effects, and withdrawal symptoms. After MNX, demands for morphine were strongly (by about 40%) increased (hospital I: 35.31 ± 12.99 mg vs 25.51 ± 7.92 mg, P = 0.03; hospital II: 35.42 ± 11.73 mg vs 24.80 ± 7.84 mg, P = 0.02; pooled data: P < .001; means ± SD). Secondary endpoints were similar in all groups (P > .05). Thus, a significant proportion of analgesia produced by systemically administered morphine is mediated by peripheral opioid receptors. Drugs that selectively activate such receptors should have the potential to produce powerful clinical pain relief.
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