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Opioids: boxed warning and class statements

19 December 2019

Required opioid class boxed warning

WARNINGS
Limitations of use
Because of the risks associated with the use of opioids, [Product] should only be used in patients for whom other treatment options, including non-opioid analgesics, are ineffective, not tolerated or otherwise inadequate to provide appropriate management of pain (see section 4.4 Special Warnings and Precautions for Use).

Hazardous and harmful use
[Product] poses risks of hazardous and harmful use which can lead to overdose and death. Assess the patient's risk of hazardous and harmful use before prescribing and monitor the patient regularly during treatment (see section 4.4. Special Warnings and Precautions for Use).

Life threatening respiratory depression
Serious, life-threatening or fatal respiratory depression may occur with the use of [Product]. Be aware of situations which increase the risk of respiratory depression, modify dosing in patients at risk and monitor patients closely, especially on initiation or following a dose increase (see section 4.4 Special Warnings and Precautions for Use).

Concomitant use of benzodiazepines and other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, including alcohol
Concomitant use of opioids with benzodiazepines, gabapentinoids, antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, cannabis or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, including alcohol, may result in profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death. Limit dosages and durations to the minimum required; and monitor patients for signs and symptoms of respiratory depression and sedation. Caution patients not to drink alcohol while taking [Product].

Required Precautions and Warnings Class Statement (all opioids)

Hazardous and harmful use

[Product] contains the opioid [active ingredient] and is a potential drug of abuse, misuse and addiction. Addiction can occur in patients appropriately prescribed [Product] at recommended doses.

The risk of addiction is increased in patients with a personal or family history of substance abuse (including alcohol and prescription and illicit drugs) or mental illness. The risk also increases the longer the drug is used and with higher doses. Patients should be assessed for their risks for opioid abuse or addiction prior to being prescribed [Product].

All patients receiving opioids should be routinely monitored for signs of misuse and abuse. Opioids are sought by people with addiction and may be subject to diversion. Strategies to reduce these risks include prescribing the drug in the smallest appropriate quantity and advising the patient on the safe storage and proper disposal of any unused drug (see section 6.4 Special precautions for storage and section 6.6 Special precautions for disposal). Caution patients that abuse of oral or transdermal forms of opioids by parenteral administration can result in serious adverse events, which may be fatal.

Patients should be advised not to share [Product] with anyone else.

Respiratory depression

Serious, life-threatening or fatal respiratory depression can occur with the use of opioids even when used as recommended. It can occur at any time during the use of [Product] but the risk is greatest during initiation of therapy or following an increase in dose. Patients should be monitored closely for respiratory depression at these times.

The risk of life-threatening respiratory depression is also higher in elderly, frail, or debilitated patients and in patients with existing impairment of respiratory function (e.g. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; asthma). Opioids should be used with caution and with close monitoring in these patients (see section 4.2 Dose and method of administration). The use of opioids is contraindicated in patients with severe respiratory disease, acute respiratory disease and respiratory depression (see section 4.3 Contraindications).

The risk of respiratory depression is greater with the use of high doses of opioids, especially high potency and modified release formulations, and in opioid naïve patients. Initiation of opioid treatment should be at the lower end of the dosage recommendations with careful titration of doses to achieve effective pain relief. Careful calculation of equianalgesic doses is required when changing opioids or switching from immediate release to modified release formulations, (see section 4.2 Dose and method of administration).

Risks from concomitant use of benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants, including alcohol

Concomitant use of opioids and benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants, including alcohol, may result in sedation, respiratory depression, coma and death. Because of these risks, concomitant prescribing of [Product] with CNS depressant medicines, such as other opioid analgesics, benzodiazepines, gabapentinoids, cannabis, sedatives, hypnotics, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, centrally-active anti-emetics and other CNS depressants, should be reserved for patients for whom other treatment options are not possible. If a decision is made to prescribe [Product] concomitantly with any of the medicines, the lowest effective dose should be used, and the duration of treatment should be as short as possible. Patients should be followed closely for signs and symptoms of respiratory depression and sedation. Patients and their caregivers should be made aware of these symptoms. Patients and their caregivers should also be informed of the potential harms of consuming alcohol while taking [Product].

Use of opioids in chronic (long-term) non-cancer pain (CNCP)

Opioid analgesics have an established role in the treatment of acute pain, cancer pain and palliative and end-of-life care. Current evidence does not generally support opioid analgesics in improving pain and function for most patients with chronic non-cancer pain. The development of tolerance and physical dependence and risks of adverse effects, including hazardous and harmful use, increase with the length of time a patient takes an opioid. The use of opioids for long-term treatment of CNCP is not recommended.

The use of an opioid to treat CNCP should only be considered after maximised non-pharmacological and non-opioid treatments have been tried and found ineffective, not tolerated or otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain. Opioids should only be prescribed as a component of comprehensive multidisciplinary and multimodal pain management.

Opioid therapy for CNCP should be initiated as a trial in accordance with clinical guidelines and after a comprehensive biopsychosocial assessment has established a cause for the pain and the appropriateness of opioid therapy for the patient (see Hazardous and harmful use, above). The expected outcome of therapy (pain reduction rather than complete abolition of pain, improved function and quality of life) should be discussed with the patient before commencing opioid treatment, with agreement to discontinue treatment if these objectives are not met.

Owing to the varied response to opioids between individuals, it is recommended that all patients be started at the lowest appropriate dose and titrated to achieve an adequate level of analgesia and functional improvement with minimum adverse reactions. Immediate-release products should not be used to treat chronic pain, but may be used for a short period in opioid-naïve patients to develop a level of tolerance before switching to a modified-release formulation. Careful and regular assessment and monitoring is required to establish the clinical need for ongoing treatment. Discontinue opioid therapy if there is no improvement of pain and/or function during the trial period or if there is any evidence of misuse or abuse. Treatment should only continue if the trial has demonstrated that the pain is opioid responsive and there has been functional improvement. The patient's condition should be reviewed regularly and the dose tapered off slowly if opioid treatment is no longer appropriate (see Ceasing Opioids).

Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal

Neuroadaptation of the opioid receptors to repeated administration of opioids can produce tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance is the need for increasing doses to maintain analgesia. Tolerance may occur to both the desired and undesired effects of the opioid.

Physical dependence, which can occur after several days to weeks of continued opioid usage, results in withdrawal symptoms if the opioid is ceased abruptly or the dose is significantly reduced.

Withdrawal symptoms can also occur following the administration of an opioid antagonist (e.g. naloxone) or partial agonist (e.g. buprenorphine). Withdrawal can result in some or all of the following symptoms: dysphoria, restlessness/agitation, lacrimation, rhinorrhoea, yawning, sweating, chills, myalgia, mydriasis, irritability, anxiety, increasing pain, backache, joint pain, weakness, abdominal cramps, insomnia, nausea, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate and increased heart rate.

When discontinuing [Product] in a person who may be physically-dependent, the drug should not be ceased abruptly but withdrawn by tapering the dose gradually (see Ceasing opioids and section 4.2 Dose and Method of Administration).

Accidental ingestion/exposure

Accidental ingestion or exposure of [Product], especially by children, can result in a fatal overdose of [opioid]. Patients and their caregivers should be given information on safe storage and disposal of unused [Product] (see section 6.4 Special precautions for storage and section 6.6 Special precautions for disposal).

Hyperalgesia

Hyperalgesia may occur with the use of opioids, particularly at high doses. Hyperalgesia may manifest as an unexplained increase in pain, increased levels of pain with increasing opioid dosages or diffuse sensitivity not associated with the original pain. Hyperalgesia should not be confused with tolerance (see Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal). If opioid induced hyperalgesia is suspected, the dose should be reduced and tapered off if possible. A change to a different opioid may be required.

Ceasing opioids

Abrupt discontinuation or rapid decreasing of the dose in a person physically dependent on an opioid may result in serious withdrawal symptoms and uncontrolled pain (see Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal). Such symptoms may lead the patient to seek other sources of licit or illicit opioids. Opioids should not be ceased abruptly in a patient who is physically dependent but withdrawn by tapering the dose slowly. Factors to take into account when deciding how to discontinue or decrease therapy include the dose and duration of the opioid the patient has been taking, the type of pain being treated and the physical and psychological attributes of the patient. A multimodal approach to pain management should be in place before initiating an opioid analgesic taper. During tapering, patients require regular review and support to manage any increase in pain, psychological distress and withdrawal symptoms.

There are no standard tapering schedules suitable for all patients and an individualised plan is necessary. In general, tapering should involve a dose reduction of no more than 10 percent to 25 percent every 2 to 4 weeks (see section 4.2 Dose and Method of Administration). If the patient is experiencing increased pain or serious withdrawal symptoms, it may be necessary to go back to the previous dose until stable before proceeding with a more gradual taper.

When ceasing opioids in a patient who has a suspected opioid use disorder, the need for medication assisted treatment and/or referral to a specialist should be considered.