Should topical opioid analgesics be regarded as effective and safe when applied to chronic cutaneous lesions?

Peter Farley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: The induction of analgesia for many chronic cutaneous lesions requires treatment with an opioid analgesic. In many patients suffering with these wounds such drugs are either contraindicated or shunned because of their association with death. There are now case reports involving over 100 patients with many different types of chronic superficial wounds, which suggest that the topical application of an opioid in a suitable gel leads to a significant reduction in the level of perceived pain.

Key findings: Some work has been undertaken to elucidate the mechanisms by which such a reduction is achieved. To date there have been no proven deleterious effects of such an analgesic system upon wound healing. Although morphine is not absorbed through the intact epidermis, an open wound provides no such barrier and for large wounds drug absorption can be problematic. However, for most chronic cutaneous lesions, where data has been gathered, the blood levels of the drug applied ranges from undetectable to below that required for a systemic effect.

Summary If proven, the use of opioids in this way would provide adequate analgesia for a collection of wounds, which are difficult to treat in patients who are often vulnerable. Proof of this concept is now urgently required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-756
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
Issue number6
Early online date3 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • analgesia
  • cutaneous lesions
  • healing
  • morphine
  • topical opioid


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