Buy this Article for $10.95

Have a coupon or promotional code? Enter it here:

When you buy this you'll get access to the ePub version, a downloadable PDF, and the ability to print the full article.


Central sensitization, Critical care, Hyperalgesia, Opioids, Tolerance



  1. Hines, Cheryl B. EdD, MSN, CRNA
  2. Owings, Clara R. EdD, MSN, FNP-BC


In the last decade, critical-care nurses have seen a surge in acute opioid overdose admissions to intensive care units; there have also been significant increases in intensive care unit admissions due to opioid-related illness such as dependence, tolerance, and hyperalgesia. Despite these issues, opioids continue to be the criterion standard of pain management, and the search for opioid alternatives has not produced a clear replacement. A contributor to this problem has been the prevailing opinion that once bound to a receptor, all opioids engaged in the same types of intracellular signaling, which resulted in the same types of responses, only differing in the magnitude of those responses. Contemporary research with G-protein-coupled receptor models (eg, opioids) has demonstrated that this oversimplification is incorrect or incomplete. Understanding the complexity of opioid pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics helps us to grasp the intricacies of opioid-related adverse effects. Although there are many potential adverse effects related to opioids, this review focuses on the major adverse effects commonly seen in critical care, namely, respiratory depression, tolerance, hyperalgesia, and central sensitization. In addition, a case study has been incorporated to aid in understanding of strategies nurses can incorporate into their practices: that help mitigate the development of these effects.