Achieving effective, durable, and safe pain relief, especially
in patients with chronic and/or severe pain conditions,
can be a clinical challenge. For many types of pain, prescription
opioids are among the most effective analgesics [Fine
and Portenoy 2004]. However, there could be concerns about the
development of opioid tolerance or adverse effects, and in some
cases opioids seem to worsen pain (eg, hyperalgesia) [Compton
2008; DuPen et al. 2007; Stein et al. 2003]. For certain difficult
conditions, such as fibromyalgia or neuropathies, opioids alone are
sometimes considered of limited effectiveness [Chou et al. 2009].
Healthcare providers interested in pain management must be
alert to new or novel approaches that help to overcome deficiencies
of opioids, such as treatment-limiting side effects, and as aids
in relieving difficult-to-treat pain conditions. In this regard, there is
a growing body of evidence suggesting potential benefits of opioid
Opioid antagonists — in particular, naloxone and naltrexone —
have been available and studied for decades as agents that displace
opioid molecules from their neuroreceptors, and block
opioids from attaching to and activating those receptors. Such
qualities can be of important benefit, as short-acting antagonists
like naloxone are used effectively to quickly reverse toxic effects of
opioid overmedication or overdose.
Laboratory research and clinical trials have demonstrated the
unexpected, paradoxical effects of opioid antagonists as adjuvants
for enhancing rather than attenuating analgesic effects of opioids
like morphine, oxycodone, and others. Further benefits of opioid
antagonists, as monotherapy, for better managing certain chronic
pain conditions also have been discovered.