Long-Term Effects of Neonatal Morphine Infusion on Pain Sensitivity: Follow-Up of a Randomized Controlled Trial


      • Opioids are commonly used in the NICU and have both beneficial and adverse short-term effects.
      • Long-term follow-up studies on neonatal morphine administration in humans are scarce.
      • Neonatal morphine infusion has no long-term adverse effects on thermal pain thresholds.
      • No effects on neurological functioning or incidence of chronic pain have been observed.


      Short-term and long-term effects of neonatal pain and its analgesic treatment have been topics of translational research over the years. This study aimed to identify the long-term effects of continuous morphine infusion in the neonatal period on thermal pain sensitivity, the incidence of chronic pain, and neurological functioning. Eighty-nine of the 150 participants of a neonatal randomized controlled trial on continuous morphine infusion versus placebo during mechanical ventilation underwent quantitative sensory testing and neurological examination at the age of 8 or 9 years. Forty-three children from the morphine group and 46 children from the placebo group participated in this follow-up study. Thermal detection and pain thresholds were compared with data from 28 healthy controls. Multivariate analyses revealed no statistically significant differences in thermal detection thresholds and pain thresholds between the morphine and placebo groups. The incidence of chronic pain was comparable between both groups. The neurological examination was normal in 29 (76%) of the children in the morphine group and 25 (61%) of the children in the control group (P = .14). We found that neonatal continuous morphine infusion (10 μg/kg/h) has no adverse effects on thermal detection and pain thresholds, the incidence of chronic pain, or overall neurological functioning 8 to 9 years later.


      This unique long-term follow-up study shows that neonatal continuous morphine infusion (10 μg/kg/h) has no long-term adverse effects on thermal detection and pain thresholds or overall neurological functioning. These findings will help clinicians to find the most adequate and safe analgesic dosing regimens for neonates and infants.

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