- Starting strong opioids – titrating the dose
- First-line maintenance treatment
- First-line treatment if oral opioids are not suitable – transdermal patches
- First-line treatment if oral opioids are not suitable – subcutaneous delivery
- First-line treatment for breakthrough pain in patients who can take oral opioids
- Management of constipation
- Management of nausea
- Management of drowsiness
People have the right to be involved in discussions and make informed decisions about their care, as described in NICE's information on making decisions about your care.
Making decisions using NICE guidelines explains how we use words to show the strength (or certainty) of our recommendations, and has information about prescribing medicines (including off-label use), professional guidelines, standards and laws (including on consent and mental capacity), and safeguarding.
1.1.1 When offering pain treatment with strong opioids to a patient with advanced and progressive disease, ask them about concerns such as:
fears that treatment implies the final stages of life.
1.1.2 Provide verbal and written information on strong opioid treatment to patients and carers, including the following:
when and why strong opioids are used to treat pain
how effective they are likely to be
taking strong opioids for background and breakthrough pain, addressing:
how, when and how often to take strong opioids
how long pain relief should last
side effects and signs of toxicity
follow-up and further prescribing
information on who to contact out of hours, particularly during initiation of treatment.
1.1.3 Offer patients access to frequent review of pain control and side effects.
1.1.4 When starting treatment with strong opioids, offer patients with advanced and progressive disease regular oral sustained-release or oral immediate-release morphine (depending on patient preference), with rescue doses of oral immediate-release morphine for breakthrough pain.
1.1.5 For patients with no renal or hepatic comorbidities, offer a typical total daily starting dose schedule of 20 mg to 30 mg of oral morphine (for example, 10 mg to 15 mg oral sustained-release morphine twice daily), plus 5 mg oral immediate-release morphine for rescue doses during the titration phase.
1.1.6 Adjust the dose until a good balance exists between acceptable pain control and side effects. If this balance is not reached after a few dose adjustments, seek specialist advice. Offer patients frequent review, particularly in the titration phase.
1.1.7 Seek specialist advice before prescribing strong opioids for patients with moderate to severe renal or hepatic impairment.
1.1.8 Offer oral sustained-release morphine as first-line maintenance treatment to patients with advanced and progressive disease who require strong opioids.
1.1.9 Do not routinely offer transdermal patch formulations as first-line maintenance treatment to patients in whom oral opioids are suitable.
1.1.10 If pain remains inadequately controlled despite optimising first-line maintenance treatment, review analgesic strategy and consider seeking specialist advice.
1.1.11 Consider initiating transdermal patches with the lowest acquisition cost for patients in whom oral opioids are not suitable and analgesic requirements are stable, supported by specialist advice where needed.
1.1.12 This recommendation has been replaced by recommendation 1.5.6 in NICE's guideline on controlled drugs: safe use and management.
1.1.13 Consider initiating subcutaneous opioids with the lowest acquisition cost for patients in whom oral opioids are not suitable and analgesic requirements are unstable, supported by specialist advice where needed.
1.1.14 Offer oral immediate-release morphine for the first-line rescue medication of breakthrough pain in patients on maintenance oral morphine treatment.
1.1.15 Do not offer fast-acting fentanyl as first-line rescue medication.
1.1.16 If pain remains inadequately controlled despite optimising treatment, consider seeking specialist advice.
1.1.17 Inform patients that constipation affects nearly all patients receiving strong opioid treatment.
1.1.18 Prescribe laxative treatment (to be taken regularly at an effective dose) for all patients initiating strong opioids.
1.1.19 Inform patients that treatment for constipation takes time to work and adherence is important.
1.1.20 Optimise laxative treatment for managing constipation before considering switching strong opioids.
1.1.21 Advise patients that nausea may occur when starting strong opioid treatment or at dose increase, but that it is likely to be transient.
1.1.22 If nausea persists, prescribe and optimise anti-emetic treatment before considering switching strong opioids.
1.1.23 Advise patients that mild drowsiness or impaired concentration may occur when starting strong opioid treatment or at dose increase, but that it is often transient. Warn patients that impaired concentration may affect their ability to drive (see the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's Assessing fitness to drive: a guide for medical professionals) and undertake other manual tasks.
1.1.24 In patients with either persistent or moderate-to-severe central nervous system side effects:
consider dose reduction if pain is controlled or
consider switching opioids if pain is not controlled.
1.1.25 If side effects remain uncontrolled despite optimising treatment, consider seeking specialist advice.