The use of analgesic drugs in postoperative patients: The neglected problem of pain control in intensive care units. An observational, prospective, multicenter study in 128 Italian intensive care units

Guido Bertolini, Cosetta Minelli, Nicola Latronico, Alessandro Cattaneo, Giorgio Mura, Rita M. Melotti, Gaetano Iapichino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: The use of analgesic drugs in patients admitted to Italian intensive care units (ICUs) was assessed. Methods: An observational, prospective, cohort study was conducted, involving all adult patients admitted during a 1-month period in 128 Italian general ICUs. The use of analgesic drugs was evaluated for the first 2 postoperative days in surgical patients who stayed in ICU for at least 2 days. Results: We observed 661 postoperative patients who underwent elective (72%) or emergency surgery. Of the patients with an ICU stay of at least 2 days, 49% did not receive any opioids in the first 48 postoperative hours, and more than 35% did not receive any analgesic at all. The most used opioid was fentanyl, followed by morphine and buprenorphine. Among the 336 patients who received at least one opioid, as many as 42% had only a single bolus per day. Pain control was reported as the reason for drug use in 54.5% of opioid administrations, while control of anxiety covered 10.3% of them. The probability of receiving an opioid was lower for patients in coma. Conclusion: Management of postoperative pain in Italian ICUs was insuffcient, particularly in neurosurgical and comatose patients. A general lack of knowledge about pain and misconceptions about pain drugs may be at the basis of these results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-77
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002



  • Analgesia
  • Drug use
  • Intensive care units
  • Opioids
  • Postoperative pain
  • Quality of care assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

Cite this