Relative potency of intravenous oxymorphone compared to other µ opioid agonists in humans — pilot study outcomes

Shanna Babalonis, Sandra D. Comer, Jermaine D. Jones, Paul Nuzzo, Michelle R. Lofwall, Jeanne Manubay, Kevin W. Hatton, Robert A. Whittington, Sharon L. Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Aims: Intravenous (IV) misuse of the µ opioid analgesic oxymorphone has caused significant public health harms; however, no controlled data on its IV abuse potential are available. The primary aims of this pilot study were to directly compare IV oxymorphone to IV oxycodone, morphine, and hydromorphone on a subjective measure of drug liking and to assess relative potency. Methods: Participants (n = 6) with opioid use disorder, physical dependence, and current IV use completed this two-site, within-subject, double-blind, placebo-controlled, inpatient pilot study. During each session, one IV dose (mg/70 kg) was administered: oxymorphone (1.8, 3.2, 5.6, 10, 18, 32), hydromorphone (1.8, 3.2, 5.6, 10, 18), oxycodone (18, 32, 56), morphine (18, 32), and placebo. Data were collected before and for 6 h after dosing. Primary outcomes included safety/physiological effects, subjective reports of drug liking, and relative potency estimates. Results: All active test drugs produced prototypical, dose-related µ opioid agonist effects (e.g., miosis). Oxymorphone was more potent than the comparator opioids on several measures, including drug liking and respiratory depression (p < 0.05). Across abuse-related subjective outcomes, oxymorphone was 2.3–2.8-fold more potent than hydromorphone and 12.5–14-fold more potent than oxycodone (p < 0.05). Conclusions: Despite the relatively small sample size, this pilot study detected robust oxymorphone effects. Oxymorphone was far more potent than the comparator opioids, particularly on abuse potential outcomes. Overall, these findings may help explain surveillance reports that demonstrate, after adjusting for prescription availability, oxymorphone is injected at the highest frequency, relative to other prescription opioids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2503-2514
Number of pages12
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank the staff at the University of Kentucky (UK) Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) Clinical Research Unit for research support: Ida Holt RN, Janet Murray RN, Claudia Tindall APRN, Andrea Woodson RN, Rebecca Abbott, Nur Ali, Nicholas Allwood, Ben Foote, Jocelyn Nichols, Lauren Noble, Victoria Vessels, and Vincent Woolfolk; the investigational pharmacists at UK Investigational Pharmacy, Dr. Seth Larkin and Dr. Thomas Lyman and NYSPI, Dr. Robert Jung and Dr. Lindsey Tesseyman for preparing study medication; and Dr. Samy-Claude Elayi and Dr. Ronnie Zeidan for patient support.

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grants from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (HHSF223201710119C [SDC]; HHSF223201710120C [SLW]) and the National Center for Advancing of Translational Sciences (UL1TR001998 [UK CTSA]).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Abuse potential
  • Hydromorphone
  • Intravenous
  • Morphine
  • Opioid
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Potency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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