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Methoxyflurane provides effective analgesia for pre-hospital pain management in trauma patients

22nd July 2022

Methoxyflurane shows the fastest onset of analgesia among pre-hospital admission patients with moderate to severe trauma pain

Methoxyflurane use for patients with moderate to severe trauma pain has both the shortest time until pain is no longer severe and for reaching minimal levels in comparison to other commonly used analgesic agents.

This was the conclusion of a 12-month evaluation of methoxyflurane in comparison to usual analgesic practice with Entonox and intravenous formulations of morphine and paracetamol by researchers from the Community and Health Research Unit, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK.

Trauma is a major cause of pain with one study of 1,470 individuals with severe trauma, finding that pain was reported by 70%. The usual practice of analgesia management for moderate to severe trauma pain will include intravenous (or oral) morphine, intravenous paracetamol and Entonox, which is an inhaled equal mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen.

Another potentially useful agent and which can be administered by paramedics is the anaesthetic, methoxyflurane. However, whilst there are no published controlled trials of methoxyflurane in sub-anaesthetic doses, available data indicate that it is an efficacious analgesic.

Nevertheless, one review concluded that in the management of trauma-related pain, when low-dose methoxyflurane was compared to nitrous oxide, both agents provided rapid pain relief with no significant differences between them. In contrast, in a study of pre-hospital analgesia, it was found that although intranasal fentanyl and intravenous morphine are equally effective analgesic agents for moderate to severe acute pain, there was evidence that methoxyflurane was less effective than both drugs.

Given the uncertainty over the comparative analgesic effectiveness of methoxyflurane compared to other commonly used agents, in the present study, the UK team wanted to examine the clinical and economic benefits of inhaled methoxyflurane when used by ambulance staff for the prehospital analgesic management of patients with trauma.

For the purposes of the study, they compared methoxyflurane with intravenous morphine and paracetamol and Entonox and patients were matched with these three drugs with respect to methoxyflurane’s indication for age, trauma, level of consciousness and the severity of the initial pain.

A patient’s level of pain was assessed using a verbal numerical score from 0 to 10 and was categorised as severe (7 – 10), moderate (4 – 6) mild (1 – 3) and none (0). Using a regression model of pain, the authors used hypothetical scenarios to compare the time spent in pain for the different analgesics.

Methoxyflurane and analgesia

A total of 2,316 individuals with mean age of 61.8 years (40.8% male) were included, of whom 483 were given methoxyflurane, 753 entonox, 802 intravenous morphine and 278 intravenous paracetamol. Among those receiving methoxyflurane, 45.8% had a limb injury or fall with 22.4% a suspected neck of femur trauma or hip injury with or without limb soft tissue injury.

The authors estimated that the time taken before pain levels were no longer self-reported as severe was 10.54 minutes for methoxyflurane, 20.09 minutes for morphine and 37.53 minutes for paracetamol (p < 0.001 in both comparisons). Their modelling suggested that patients receiving Entonox were not predicted to exit severe pain.

Pairwise comparison of the time before patients experienced the least amount of pain was 26.94 minutes for methoxyflurane vs 44.96 for Entonox (p < 0.001), 27 minutes vs 42.7 minutes for morphine (p < 0.001) and 27.07 vs 45.77 for paracetamol (p < 0.001).

However, when looking at differences in cost of the four treatments, the authors estimated that in a scenario where trauma pain was managed with methoxyflurane compared to Entonox, the added benefits would cost an additional £12.30 per patient.

They concluded that while methoxyflurane provided a more rapid reduction of pain (compared to Entonox) and other parenteral analgesics, it was a more costly intervention.

Smith MD et al. Evaluation of the effectiveness and costs of inhaled methoxyflurane versus usual analgesia for prehospital injury and trauma: non-randomised clinical study BMC Emerg Med 2022