Looking at an old drug repurposed to treat opioid addiction, a new study found long-acting formulation of morphine (SROM) promising for curbing the opioid epidemic.
Many people who overdose on fentanyl have untreated opioid addiction. Left untreated, opioid addiction can have devastating consequences. One of the reasons for the low treatment rates is that current medications have limited ability to retain people in treatment. The Canadian National Guideline for the Clinical Management of Opioid Use Disorder recommends treatment with slow-release oral morphine, also known as SROM—prescribed as a third line of therapy. In this study, we wanted to compare Kadian® and Methadone for the treatment of opioid use disorder.
|QUICK FACT: Slow release oral morphine (SROM) is given once daily and has been proposed for people who do not tolerate or respond to methadone.|
We looked at the scientific literature up until the May of 2018. Then, we wanted to see if SROM (brand name Kadian®) works as well as methadone in the treatment of opioid use disorder. In the study, we included people of any gender, age or ethnicity.
What did the study find?
We found four unique clinical trials that met inclusion criteria (n = 471), and compared Kadian® with methadone. Meta-analysis of existing clinical trials suggests SROM (slow release oral morphine) may be as effective in retaining patients in treatment and reducing heroin use.
This is the first meta-analysis of slow release oral morphine (Kadian®). We included new studies that increase the validity of the study. We included previously unpublished data obtained from primary trials. A pooling of data for craving and adverse events was not possible due to inconsistent reporting of outcome measures across trials
SROM seems as good as methadone for the treatment of opioid use disorder but retains people in treatment longer.
Why is SROM important?
While methadone is effective for many patients, these findings suggest SROM may provide benefits in addressing some of the limitations of methadone. We need to expand uptake and retention of people on opioid use disorder treatments. These data should compel public health agencies and decision makers to find therapeutic tools for people who have opioid addiction.
We are running out of options for helping people overcome opioid addiction and abandon contaminated fentanyl. But revisiting this medication, known from cancer treatment, can have a dramatic impact on addiction treatment success because it is not only equally effective as the current treatment options but also better tolerated by patients. Expanding treatment options responds to patients’ needs by offering drugs with fewer side effects.
Kadian® slow-release oral morphine is available in 10mg, 20mg, 50mg, and 100mg capsules, which may be combined as necessary.
|Reference: Klimas, J., Gorfinkel, L., Giacomuzzi, S., Ruckes, C., Socias, E.M., Fairbairn, N., Wood, E. (2019) Slow Release Oral Morphine versus Methadone for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BMJ Open (In Press) 0:e025799. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025799|
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Why clinician-scientist matters
Source: Klimas, J., McNeil, R., Small, W., Cullen, W. Clinician-Scientist Training in Addiction Medicine: A Novel Programme in a Canadian Setting. Academic Medicine 92(10):1367, October 2017.
Against the use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain to people who have active substance use disorders advises the third recommendation in the new opioid therapy guidelines (May 8th, 2017).
However, this “strong” recommendation is based on low quality of evidence from studies that rarely involve people with active substance use disorders (SUD).
Here, we first highlight the main caveats in the research of pain treatment among people with SUDs, why this has been the case and then we offer potential solutions for overcoming the obstacles in clinical research and policy.
Most clinical trials of pain medications exclude people with SUDs. Denying treatment of pain with opioids to people with active SUDs in the absence of evidence, based on a presumed potential for “more” addiction and documented adverse side effects (overdose), is cautious. However, it is also likely influenced by stereotypes and stigma towards people who use drugs and it further discriminates people with SUDs. Instead of stigma, the society should seek better ways of increasing rapid access to evidence-based opioid agonist therapy for prescription opioid use disorders (see Ahamad & Socias, 2016).
Moreover, this approach can lead to unanticipated consequences, such as seeking illicit drugs (see Voon et al, 2015). It is clear that we need more research to better understand pain treatment among people with SUDs and to give better recommendations to clinicians. But what kind of further research? Firstly, we need clinical trials that specifically include people with SUDs, such as people receiving opioid agonist treatment (Ti et al., 2015). If trialists refuse to include people with pain and concurrent SUDs into pain trials, presumably because of their high-risk for more SUDs, this obstacle can be overcome by including a standardized measure of pain, like the VAS, into every pharmacotherapy trial of SUD treatment.
Which pain patient treated with opioids will develop opioid use disorder?
Secondly, we still don’t know which pain patient treated with opioids will develop opioid use disorder (OUD). Despite the typical occurrence of OUDs among approximately 5.5% of the study populations in pain trials, there is no evidence for a reliable predictor of who will develop OUD. We need to find valid risk indicators.
Finally, the current opioid overdose crisis in many countries is primarily driven by not-as-prescribed-use of fentanyl – an anesthetic used to tranquilize elephants. What if people with opioid use disorders self-medicated their pain with fentanyl (see Voon et al., 2015)? What if their pain, both emotional and physical, was as big as elephants and we had nothing for them? What we offer to them is suspicion, exclusion, denial and mistrust. We should offer compassion and fairness.
- Busse, J. W., et al. (2017). “Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 189(18): E659-E666.
- Socias, M. E. and K. Ahamad (2016). “An urgent call to increase access to evidence-based opioid agonist therapy for prescription opioid use disorders.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 188(17/18): 1208.
- Ti, L., et al. (2015). “Denial of pain medication by health care providers predicts in-hospital illicit drug use among individuals who use illicit drugs.” Pain Research & Management 20(2): 84-88.
- Voon, P., et al. (2015). “Pain among high-risk patients on methadone maintenance treatment.” The journal of pain 16(9): 887-894.
Research impact is often hard to prove. It takes years before our findings change the world and the change is often small. This new abstract published in the Trials journal summarizes a poster presentation from the conference of the Core Outcome Measures in Trials (COMET) Initiative. This year the conference was in Calgary, Canada, on May 20-21.
Cite this article as: Klimas et al.: Reducing drinking in concurrent
problem alcohol and illicit drug users: an impact story. Trials 2015
16(Suppl 3):P11. doi:10.1186/1745-6215-16-S3-P11