Abuse of tapentadol compared to other atypical opioids among individuals entering treatment for opioid use disorders


  • S. Geoff Severtson, PhD
  • Marie C. Gurrola, MPH
  • Mark W. Parrino, MPA
  • Matthew S. Ellis, PhD, MPE
  • Theodore J. Cicero, PhD
  • Janetta L. Iwanicki, MD
  • Richard C. Dart, MD, PhD




opioids, abuse, tapentadol, atypical opioids


Objective: Tapentadol is an atypical opioid analgesic thought to have dual mechanisms of action: μ-receptor agonism and inhibition of norepinephrine reuptake. Unlike other atypical opioids, tapentadol is a schedule II-controlled substance. We compared the prevalence of abuse (use to get high) of tapentadol to other atypical opioids used to treat pain (buprenorphine and tramadol).

Design: An observational, serial cross-sectional study.

Setting: Individuals enrolling in treatment programs for opioid use disorder in 2019. Each completed a self-administered, paper questionnaire assessing prescription drug abuse and illegal drug use within 1 week of enrollment.

Main outcome measures: Indication of past month abuse of tapentadol or comparator drugs on a self-administered questionnaire.

Results: There were 6,987 respondents. Unadjusted and utilization-adjusted logistic regression models were used to compare odds of endorsement of tapentadol to tramadol and buprenorphine products indicated for the management of pain. Unadjusted abuse prevalence was 0.20 percent for total tapentadol (0.03 percent for NUCYNTA® and 0.06 percent for NUCYNTA ER). Relative to total tapentadol, the odds of abuse of buprenorphine for pain was 2.9 times greater (95 percent CI: 1.6 to 5.3, p < 0.001), and for tramadol, 43.1 times greater (95 percent CI: 25.3 to 73.3, p < 0.001). Adjusting for prescriptions dispensed, differences in odds of abuse were not statistically significant (odds ratio (OR) = 1.6, 95 percent CI: 0.9 to 3.0, p = 0.108 for buprenorphine for pain and OR = 0.7, 95 percent CI: 0.4 to 1.2, p = 0.209 for tramadol).

Conclusions: Tapentadol use to get high is less frequent than other atypical opioids. Findings suggest tapentadol is rarely the primary drug abused by an individual.

Author Biographies

S. Geoff Severtson, PhD

Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Safety, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Denver, Colorado

Marie C. Gurrola, MPH

Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Safety, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Denver, Colorado

Mark W. Parrino, MPA

American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD), New York, New York

Matthew S. Ellis, PhD, MPE

Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

Theodore J. Cicero, PhD

Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

Janetta L. Iwanicki, MD

Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Safety, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Denver, Colorado

Richard C. Dart, MD, PhD

Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Safety, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Denver; Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Colorado, Aurora, Colorado


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How to Cite

Severtson, S. G., M. C. Gurrola, M. W. Parrino, M. S. Ellis, T. J. Cicero, J. L. Iwanicki, and R. C. Dart. “Abuse of Tapentadol Compared to Other Atypical Opioids Among Individuals Entering Treatment for Opioid Use Disorders”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 19, no. 5, Nov. 2023, pp. 445-53, doi:10.5055/jom.0818.