Safer Medication Use – Opioids and gabapentinoids


Safer Medication Use is a bulletin series jointly produced by the Regional Drug and Therapeutics Centre and the Yellow Card Centre Northern and Yorkshire, which aims to promote safer prescribing. It discusses specific drug related safety problems, provides guidance to ensure safe, appropriate prescribing and raises awareness of adverse drug reaction detection and reporting.

The use of combination opioids and gabapentinoids is associated with an increased risk of adverse events. Gabapentinoid overdose is much more likely to be fatal when combined with opioids and there is a greater risk of gabapentinoid dependence in patients with a history of opioid use disorder.

There are limited circumstances when patients should be prescribed both an opioid and a gabapentinoid, and prescribers must carefully balance potential benefits against the risk of adverse effects from combination therapy. In such situations the opioid dose should be reduced before starting a gabapentinoid and the patient reviewed regularly. Treatment should be stopped if it is not effective or not tolerated but withdrawal of established opioids and / or gabapentinoid therapy should be done slowly to prevent discontinuation symptoms.

Postoperative patients who are prescribed long term gabapentinoids should be closely monitored for respiratory depression.