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      Buprenorphine – an attractive opioid with underutilized potential in treatment of chronic pain

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          Abstract

          Despite proven clinical utility, buprenorphine has not been used widely for the treatment of chronic pain. Questions about “ceiling effect” or bell-shaped curve observed for analgesia in preclinical studies and potential withdrawal issues on combining with marketed μ-agonists continue to hinder progress in expanding full potential of buprenorphine in the treatment of cancer and noncancer pain. Mounting evidence from clinical studies and conclusions drawn by a panel of experts strongly support superior safety and efficacy profile of buprenorphine vs marketed opioids. No ceiling on analgesic effect has been reported in clinical studies. The receptor pharmacology and pharmacokinetics profile of buprenorphine is complex but unique and contributes to its distinct safety and efficacy. The buprenorphine pharmacology also allows it to be combined with other μ-receptor opioids for additivity in efficacy. Transdermal delivery products of buprenorphine have been preferred choices for the management of pain but new delivery options are under investigation for the treatment of both opioid dependence and chronic pain.

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          Most cited references 87

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          Opioids and the management of chronic severe pain in the elderly: consensus statement of an International Expert Panel with focus on the six clinically most often used World Health Organization Step III opioids (buprenorphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone).

          SUMMARY OF CONSENSUS: 1. The use of opioids in cancer pain: The criteria for selecting analgesics for pain treatment in the elderly include, but are not limited to, overall efficacy, overall side-effect profile, onset of action, drug interactions, abuse potential, and practical issues, such as cost and availability of the drug, as well as the severity and type of pain (nociceptive, acute/chronic, etc.). At any given time, the order of choice in the decision-making process can change. This consensus is based on evidence-based literature (extended data are not included and chronic, extended-release opioids are not covered). There are various driving factors relating to prescribing medication, including availability of the compound and cost, which may, at times, be the main driving factor. The transdermal formulation of buprenorphine is available in most European countries, particularly those with high opioid usage, with the exception of France; however, the availability of the sublingual formulation of buprenorphine in Europe is limited, as it is marketed in only a few countries, including Germany and Belgium. The opioid patch is experimental at present in U.S.A. and the sublingual formulation has dispensing restrictions, therefore, its use is limited. It is evident that the population pyramid is upturned. Globally, there is going to be an older population that needs to be cared for in the future. This older population has expectations in life, in that a retiree is no longer an individual who decreases their lifestyle activities. The "baby-boomers" in their 60s and 70s are "baby zoomers"; they want to have a functional active lifestyle. They are willing to make trade-offs regarding treatment choices and understand that they may experience pain, providing that can have increased quality of life and functionality. Therefore, comorbidities--including cancer and noncancer pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and postherpetic neuralgia--and patient functional status need to be taken carefully into account when addressing pain in the elderly. World Health Organization step III opioids are the mainstay of pain treatment for cancer patients and morphine has been the most commonly used for decades. In general, high level evidence data (Ib or IIb) exist, although many studies have included only few patients. Based on these studies, all opioids are considered effective in cancer pain management (although parts of cancer pain are not or only partially opioid sensitive), but no well-designed specific studies in the elderly cancer patient are available. Of the 2 opioids that are available in transdermal formulation--fentanyl and buprenorphine--fentanyl is the most investigated, but based on the published data both seem to be effective, with low toxicity and good tolerability profiles, especially at low doses. 2. The use of opioids in noncancer-related pain: Evidence is growing that opioids are efficacious in noncancer pain (treatment data mostly level Ib or IIb), but need individual dose titration and consideration of the respective tolerability profiles. Again no specific studies in the elderly have been performed, but it can be concluded that opioids have shown efficacy in noncancer pain, which is often due to diseases typical for an elderly population. When it is not clear which drugs and which regimes are superior in terms of maintaining analgesic efficacy, the appropriate drug should be chosen based on safety and tolerability considerations. Evidence-based medicine, which has been incorporated into best clinical practice guidelines, should serve as a foundation for the decision-making processes in patient care; however, in practice, the art of medicine is realized when we individualize care to the patient. This strikes a balance between the evidence-based medicine and anecdotal experience. Factual recommendations and expert opinion both have a value when applying guidelines in clinical practice. 3. The use of opioids in neuropathic pain: The role of opioids in neuropathic pain has been under debate in the past but is nowadays more and more accepted; however, higher opioid doses are often needed for neuropathic pain than for nociceptive pain. Most of the treatment data are level II or III, and suggest that incorporation of opioids earlier on might be beneficial. Buprenorphine shows a distinct benefit in improving neuropathic pain symptoms, which is considered a result of its specific pharmacological profile. 4. The use of opioids in elderly patients with impaired hepatic and renal function: Functional impairment of excretory organs is common in the elderly, especially with respect to renal function. For all opioids except buprenorphine, half-life of the active drug and metabolites is increased in the elderly and in patients with renal dysfunction. It is, therefore, recommended that--except for buprenorphine--doses be reduced, a longer time interval be used between doses, and creatinine clearance be monitored. Thus, buprenorphine appears to be the top-line choice for opioid treatment in the elderly. 5. Opioids and respiratory depression: Respiratory depression is a significant threat for opioid-treated patients with underlying pulmonary condition or receiving concomitant central nervous system (CNS) drugs associated with hypoventilation. Not all opioids show equal effects on respiratory depression: buprenorphine is the only opioid demonstrating a ceiling for respiratory depression when used without other CNS depressants. The different features of opioids regarding respiratory effects should be considered when treating patients at risk for respiratory problems, therefore careful dosing must be maintained. 6. Opioids and immunosuppression: Age is related to a gradual decline in the immune system: immunosenescence, which is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancer, and decreased efficacy of immunotherapy, such as vaccination. The clinical relevance of the immunosuppressant effects of opioids in the elderly is not fully understood, and pain itself may also cause immunosuppression. Providing adequate analgesia can be achieved without significant adverse events, opioids with minimal immunosuppressive characteristics should be used in the elderly. The immunosuppressive effects of most opioids are poorly described and this is one of the problems in assessing true effect of the opioid spectrum, but there is some indication that higher doses of opioids correlate with increased immunosuppressant effects. Taking into consideration all the very limited available evidence from preclinical and clinical work, buprenorphine can be recommended, while morphine and fentanyl cannot. 7. Safety and tolerability profile of opioids: The adverse event profile varies greatly between opioids. As the consequences of adverse events in the elderly can be serious, agents should be used that have a good tolerability profile (especially regarding CNS and gastrointestinal effects) and that are as safe as possible in overdose especially regarding effects on respiration. Slow dose titration helps to reduce the incidence of typical initial adverse events such as nausea and vomiting. Sustained release preparations, including transdermal formulations, increase patient compliance.
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            Incidence, Reversal, and Prevention of Opioid-induced Respiratory Depression.

            Opioid treatment of pain is generally safe with 0.5% or less events from respiratory depression. However, fatalities are regularly reported. The only treatment currently available to reverse opioid respiratory depression is by naloxone infusion. The efficacy of naloxone depends on its own pharmacological characteristics and on those (including receptor kinetics) of the opioid that needs reversal. Short elimination of naloxone and biophase equilibration half-lives and rapid receptor kinetics complicates reversal of high-affinity opioids. An opioid with high receptor affinity will require greater naloxone concentrations and/or a continuous infusion before reversal sets in compared with an opioid with lower receptor affinity. The clinical approach to severe opioid-induced respiratory depression is to titrate naloxone to effect and continue treatment by continuous infusion until chances for renarcotization have diminished. New approaches to prevent opioid respiratory depression without affecting analgesia have led to the experimental application of serotinine agonists, ampakines, and the antibiotic minocycline.
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              Current knowledge of buprenorphine and its unique pharmacological profile.

              Despite the increasing clinical use of transdermal buprenorphine, questions have persisted about the possibility of a ceiling effect for analgesia, its combination with other μ-opioid agonists, and the reversibility of side effects. In October 2008, a consensus group of experts met to review recent research into the pharmacology and clinical use of buprenorphine. The objective was to achieve consensus on the conclusions to be drawn from this work. It was agreed that buprenorphine clearly behaves as a full μ-opioid agonist for analgesia in clinical practice, with no ceiling effect, but that there is a ceiling effect for respiratory depression, reducing the likelihood of this potentially fatal adverse event. This is entirely consistent with receptor theory. In addition, the effects of buprenorphine can be completely reversed by naloxone. No problems are encountered when switching to and from buprenorphine and other opioids, or in combining them. Buprenorphine exhibits a pronounced antihyperalgesic effect that might indicate potential advantages in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Other beneficial properties are the compound's favorable safety profile, particularly in elderly patients and those with renal impairment, and its lack of effect on sex hormones and the immune system. The expert group agreed that these properties, as well as proven efficacy in severe pain and favorable tolerability, mean that buprenorphine can be considered a safe and effective option for treating chronic cancer and noncancer pain. © 2010 World Institute of Pain.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                1178-7090
                2015
                04 December 2015
                : 8
                : 859-870
                Affiliations
                NeuroPn Therapeutics, Alpharetta, GA, USA
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Ish K Khanna, NeuroPn Therapeutics, 520 Barnesley Lane, Alpharetta, GA, 30022, USA, Tel +1 770 330 1748, Email khanna@ 123456neuropntherapeutics.com
                Article
                jpr-8-859
                10.2147/JPR.S85951
                4675640
                © 2015 Khanna and Pillarisetti. This work is published by Dove Medical Press Limited, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License

                The full terms of the License are available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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