Comparative effectiveness of analgesics to reduce acute pain in the prehospital setting

Sept. 5, 2019

To evaluate effectiveness and harms of opioids compared to nonopioid analgesics as treatment of moderate to severe acute pain in the prehospital setting by emergency medical services, investigators screened abstracts, reviewed full-text files, abstracted data, and assessed study-level risk of bias.

According a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the researchers performed meta-analyses when appropriate and graded the strength of evidence (SOE) upon which conclusions were made for a priori determined comparisons and outcomes and defined the following as clinically important differences:

·  2 points on a 0 to 10 pain scale

·  time to analgesia of 5 minutes

· 10-percent absolute risk difference for any adverse event

·  5-percent absolute risk difference for hypotension, respiratory depression, and mental status changes.

Initial therapy in the prehospital setting includes:

·  Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs provide similar pain relief to opioids and may cause fewer overall side effects and less drowsiness.

·  Acetaminophen may provide similar pain relief to opioids and may cause fewer side effects overall and less dizziness.

·  Ketamine may provide similar pain relief to opioids. Ketamine may cause more dizziness or overall side effects, while opioids may cause more respiratory depression.

· Combining an opioid with ketamine may be more effective in reducing pain compared with opioids alone.

· If morphine does not adequately relieve pain, changing to ketamine may be more effective and more quickly reduce pain than giving additional morphine.

Few studies have been conducted in the prehospital setting, so the investigators relied on evidence from the emergency department. Analgesics were primarily administered intravenously; this was the only route studied for acetaminophen. The intranasal route was common in studies reporting adverse events for the comparison of opioids versus ketamine.

As initial analgesics, the researchers found no evidence of a clinically important difference in the change of pain scores with opioids versus ketamine administered primarily intravenously (IV) (low SOE), IV acetaminophen (APAP) (low SOE), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) administered primarily IV (moderate SOE).

The combined use of an opioid and ketamine, administered primarily IV, may reduce pain more than an opioid alone at 15 and 30 minutes (low SOE), but they found no evidence of a clinically important difference at 60 minutes (low SOE).

There was no evidence of a clinically important difference in time to analgesia with opioids compared with APAP, both administered IV. Opioids may cause fewer adverse events than ketamine (low SOE), primarily administered intranasally.

Opioids cause less dizziness than ketamine (low SOE) but may increase the risk of respiratory depression compared with ketamine (low SOE), primarily administered IV. Opioids cause more dizziness (moderate SOE) and may cause more adverse events than APAP (low SOE), both administered IV, but we found no evidence of a clinically important difference in hypotension (low SOE). Opioids may cause more adverse events and more drowsiness than NSAIDs (low SOE), administered primarily IV. Evidence on comparative effects of nitrous oxide and on harms of combined opioid and ketamine is insufficient.

For patients whose pain is not adequately reduced by IV morphine initially, giving IV ketamine may reduce pain more and may be quicker than giving additional IV morphine (low SOE, insufficient evidence to determine comparative harms).

As initial analgesia administered primarily IV, opioids are no different than ketamine, APAP, and NSAIDs in reducing acute pain in the prehospital setting. Opioids may cause fewer total side effects than ketamine, but more than APAP or NSAIDs. Differences in specific side effects vary between analgesics and can further inform treatment decisions.

Combined administration of an opioid and ketamine may reduce acute pain more than an opioid alone, but comparative harms are uncertain. When initial morphine is inadequate in reducing pain, giving ketamine may provide greater and quicker acute pain relief than giving additional morphine, although comparative harms are uncertain. Due to indirectness, SOE is generally low, and future research in the prehospital setting is needed.