Efficacy of tramadol extended-release for opioid withdrawal: A randomized clinical trial

Kelly E. Dunn, D. Andrew Tompkins, George E. Bigelow, Eric C. Strain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Importance: Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a significant public health problem. Supervised withdrawal (ie, detoxification) from opioids using clonidine or buprenorphine hydrochloride is a widely used treatment. Objective: To evaluate whether tramadol hydrochloride extended-release (ER), an approved analgesic with opioid and nonopioid mechanisms of action and low abuse potential, is effective for use in supervised withdrawal settings. Design, Setting, and Participants: A randomized clinical trialwas conducted in a residential research setting with 103 participants with OUD. Participants' treatment was stabilized with morphine, 30mg, administered subcutaneously 4 times daily. A 7-day taper using clonidine (n = 36), tramadol ER (n = 36), or buprenorphine (n = 31) was then instituted, and patients were crossed-over to double-blind placebo during a post-taper period. The study was conducted from October 25, 2010, to June 23, 2015. Main Outcomes and Measures: Retention, withdrawal symptom management, concomitant medication utilization, and naltrexone induction. Results were analyzed over time and using area under the curve for the intention-to-treat and completer groups. Results: Of the 103 participants, 88 (85.4%) were men and 43 (41.7%) were white; mean (SD) age was 28.9 (10.4) years. Buprenorphine participants (28 [90.3%]) were significantly more likely to be retained at the end of the taper compared with clonidine participants (22 [61.16%]); tramadol ER retention was intermediate and did not differ significantly from that of the other groups (26 [72.2%]; χ2 = 8.5, P = .01). Time-course analyses of withdrawal revealed significant effects of phase (taper, post taper) for the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) score (taper mean, 5.19 [SE, .26]; post-taper mean, 3.97 [SE, .23]; F2,170 = 3.6, P = .03) and Subjective Opiate Withdrawal Scale (SOWS) score (taper mean,8.81 [SE, .40]; post-taper mean, 4.14 [SE, .30]; F2,170 = 15.7, P < .001), but no group effects or group × phase interactions. Analyses of area under the curve of SOWS total scores showed significant reductions (F2,159 = 17.7, P < .001) in withdrawal severity between the taper and post-taper periods for clonidine (taper mean, 13.1; post-taper mean, 3.2; P < .001) and tramadol ER (taper mean, 7.4; post-taper mean, 2.8; P = .03), but not buprenorphine (taper mean, 6.4; post-taper mean, 7.4). Use of concomitant medication increased significantly (F2,159 = 30.7, P < .001) from stabilization to taper in the clonidine (stabilization mean, 0.64 [SE, .05]; taper mean, 1.54 [SE, .10]; P < .001) and tramadol ER (stabilization mean, 0.53 [SE, .05]; taper mean, 1.19 [SE, .09]; P = .003) groups and from stabilization to post taper in the buprenorphine group (stabilization mean, 0.46 [SE, .05] post-taper mean, 1.17 [SE, .09]; P = .006), suggesting higher withdrawal for those groups during those periods. Naltrexone initiation was voluntary and the percentage of participants choosing naltrexone therapy within the clonidine (8 [22.2%]), tramadol ER (7 [19.4%]), or buprenorphine (3 [9.7%]) groups did not differ significantly (χ2 = 2.5, P = .29). Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this trial suggest that tramadol ER is more effective than clonidine and comparable to buprenorphine in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms during a residential tapering program. Data support further examination of tramadol ER as amethod to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)885-893
Number of pages9
JournalJAMA psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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