- Specialist Palliative Care
- BACKGROUND: The most dangerous adverse effect of opioids is respiratory depression. Naloxone is used to reverse this, although in patients receiving long-term opioid therapy it can cause acute opioid withdrawal and opioid-refractory pain. OBJECTIVE: To determine if naloxone is appropriately administered to patients receiving long-term opioid therapy. METHODS: This retrospective case series based on chart reviews systematically identified patients over one year in a district general hospital. All patients aged 18 years or older receiving long-term opioid therapy admitted to medicine, surgery or the high dependency unit who were administered naloxone during their admission were included. RESULTS: A total of 1206 patient drug administration records were reviewed. Sixteen patients receiving long-term opioid therapy were administered naloxone. Twelve of these did not have opioid-induced respiratory depression and four did not have respiratory rate and oxygen saturations documented in the medical notes. All naloxone doses administered were higher than those recommended by national guidelines for this patient group. CONCLUSIONS: No patient receiving long-term opioid therapy who was administered naloxone had evidence of respiratory depression. More thorough assessment and documentation are needed. Verbal and physical stimulation as well as oxygenation should be considered prior to naloxone administration; this should be followed by close observation, hydration, renal function tests and opioid dose review.