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Drugs - Introductory Page

A wide range of drugs are used in the treatment of pain. These are called analgesics.  These drugs can work in a number of ways, and these are outlined and introduced on this page.  Some of these are drugs that are traditionally thought of as painkillers, but also a number of other groups of drugs can be useful, particularly some of the antidepressant and anticonvulsant drugs.  As will be discussed in the individual pages on these groups, it is important to understand that the effects of these drugs are on the mechanisms underlying pain, and do not mean that patients are depressed or epileptic.

Because some of these less traditional drugs are not primarily marketed for use in pain some of them are used outside the terms of the licences granted to their makers – so-called “beyond-licence” or “off-licence” use.  More information on this is given here.

Three main broad categories of drugs are used in Pain Management:

  • Opioid analgesics - these are drugs that work on the opioid receptors in the body, that are normally acted on by morphine and related drugs or the body's own painkilling chemicals such as enkephalins.
  • Adjuvant analgesics - Adjuvant ("helping") analgesics are drugs which are normally originally designed for indications other than pain, but which may in addition have useful effects on pain. This group contains drugs from a number of classes.



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Pain Service Website, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Webmaster Dr J G de Courcy, Consultant in Pain Medicine and Anaesthesia
email: pain.webmaster[at]

Page updated 19/02/2016