Serious adverse events reported in placebo randomised controlled trials of oral naltrexone: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Bolton, Monica, Hodkinson, Alexander, Boda, Shivani, Mould, Alan, Panagioti, Maria, Rhodes, Sarah, Riste, Lisa and van Marwijk, Harm (2019) Serious adverse events reported in placebo randomised controlled trials of oral naltrexone: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medicine, 17 (10). pp. 1-13. ISSN 1741-7015

[img] PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB)


Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist used in many different conditions, both licensed and unlicensed. It is used at widely varying doses from 3 - 250 mg. The aim of this review was to evaluate the safety of oral naltrexone by examining the risk of serious adverse events (SAEs) in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of naltrexone compared to placebo.

A systematic search of Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, other databases and clinical trials registries was undertaken up to March 2018. Parallel placebo-controlled RCTs longer than 4 weeks published after 1/1/2001, of oral naltrexone at any dose were selected. Any condition and age group were included, excluding only studies for opioid or ex-opioid users, due to possible opioid/opioid antagonist interactions.

The systematic review used the guidance of the Cochrane Handbook throughout. Numerical data was independently extracted by two people and cross-checked. Risk of bias was assessed with the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool. Meta-analyses were performed using Stata 15 and R, using random and fixed effects models throughout.

Eighty-nine RCTs with 11194 participants were found, studying alcohol use disorders, various psychiatric disorders, impulse control disorders, other addictions, obesity, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia and cancers.
Twenty-six studies (4,960 participants) recorded SAEs occurring by arm of study. There was no evidence of increased risk of SAEs for naltrexone compared to placebo, relative risk (RR) 0.84 (95% CI: 0.66 to 1.06). Sensitivity analyses pooling risk differences supported this conclusion (RD = -0.01 (-0.02, 0.00)) and subgroup analyses showed that results were consistent across different doses and disease groups. The quality of evidence for this outcome was judged high using the GRADE criteria.

Naltrexone does not appear to increase the risk of SAEs over placebo. These findings confirm the safety of naltrexone when used in licensed indications and encourage investments to undertake efficacy studies in unlicensed indications.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Naltrexone, serious adverse events, systematic review, low dose naltrexone, LDN
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Primary Care and Public Health
Depositing User: Rosie Harvey
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2019 11:45
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 13:16

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update