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Included as part of the PRECAUTIONS section.


Abuse Potential

EXALGO contains hydromorphone, an opioid agonist and a Schedule II controlled substance. Hydromorphone can be abused in a manner similar to other opioid agonists, legal or illicit. Opioid agonists are sought by drug abusers and people with addiction disorders and are subject to criminal diversion. Consider these risks when prescribing or dispensing EXALGO in situations where there is concern about increased risks of misuse, abuse, or diversion. Concerns about abuse, addiction, and diversion should not, however, prevent the proper management of pain.

Assess each patient's risk for opioid abuse or addiction prior to prescribing EXALGO. The risk for opioid abuse is increased in patients with a personal or family history of substance abuse (including drug or alcohol abuse or addiction) or mental illness (e.g., major depression). Patients at increased risk may still be appropriately treated with modified-release opioid formulations; however these patients will require intensive monitoring for signs of misuse, abuse, or addiction. Routinely monitor all patients receiving opioids for signs of misuse, abuse, and addiction because these drugs carry a risk for addiction even under appropriate medical use.

Misuse or abuse of EXALGO by crushing, chewing, snorting, or injecting the dissolved product will result in the uncontrolled delivery of the opioid and pose a significant risk that could result in overdose and death [see OVERDOSAGE].

Contact local state professional licensing board or state controlled substances authority for information on how to prevent and detect abuse or diversion of this product.

Life-threatening Respiratory Depression

Respiratory depression is the primary risk of EXALGO. Respiratory depression, if not immediately recognized and treated, may lead to respiratory arrest and death. Respiratory depression from opioids is manifested by a reduced urge to breathe and a decreased rate of respiration, often associated with a “sighing” pattern of breathing (deep breaths separated by abnormally long pauses). Carbon dioxide (CO2) retention from opioid-induced respiratory depression can exacerbate the sedating effects of opioids. Management of respiratory depression may include close observation, supportive measures, and use of opioid antagonists, depending on the patient's clinical status [see OVERDOSAGE].

While serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression can occur at any time during the use of EXALGO, the risk is greatest during the initiation of therapy or following a dose increase. Closely monitor patients for respiratory depression when initiating therapy with EXALGO and following dose increases. Instruct patients against use by individuals other than the patient for whom EXALGO was prescribed and to keep EXALGO out of the reach of children, as such inappropriate use may result in fatal respiratory depression.

To reduce the risk of respiratory depression, proper dosing and titration of EXALGO are essential [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION]. Overestimating the EXALGO dose when converting patients from another opioid product can result in fatal overdose with the first dose. Respiratory depression has also been reported with use of modified-release opioids when used as recommended and not misused or abused.

To further reduce the risk of respiratory depression, consider the following:

  • Proper dosing and titration are essential and EXALGO should be prescribed only by healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable in the use of potent opioids for the management of chronic pain.
  • EXALGO is for use in opioid-tolerant patients only. Ingestion of EXALGO may cause fatal respiratory depression when administered to patients not already tolerant to opioids.
  • Instruct patients to swallow EXALGO tablets intact. The tablets are not to be crushed, dissolved, or chewed. The resulting hydromorphone dose may be fatal.
  • EXALGO is contraindicated in patients with respiratory depression and in patients with conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression [see CONTRAINDICATIONS].

Accidental Exposure

Accidental ingestion of EXALGO, especially in children, can result in a fatal overdose of hydromorphone.

Elderly, Cachectic, and Debilitated Patients

Respiratory depression is more likely to occur in elderly, cachectic, or debilitated patients as they may have altered pharmacokinetics due to poor fat stores, muscle wasting, or altered clearance compared to younger, healthier patients. Therefore, monitor such patients closely, particularly when initiating and titrating EXALGO and when EXALGO is given concomitantly with other drugs that depress respiration.

Use in Patients with Chronic Pulmonary Disease

Monitor patients with significant chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cor pulmonale, and patients having a substantially decreased respiratory reserve, hypoxia, hypercapnia, or pre-existing respiratory depression for respiratory depression, particularly when initiating therapy and titrating with EXALGO, as in these patients, even usual therapeutic doses of EXALGO may decrease respiratory drive to the point of apnea. Consider the use of alternative non-opioid analgesics in these patients if possible.

Interactions with Alcohol, Other CNS Depressants, and Illicit Drugs

Hypotension, profound sedation, coma, or respiratory depression may result if EXALGO is used concomitantly with other CNS depressants (e.g., sedatives, anxiolytics, hypnotics, neuroleptics, other opioids). When considering the use of EXALGO in a patient taking a CNS depressant, assess the duration of use of the CNS depressant and the patient's response, including the degree of tolerance that has developed to CNS depression. Additionally, consider the patient's use, if any, of alcohol or illicit drugs that cause CNS depression. If EXALGO therapy is to be initiated in a patient taking a CNS depressant, start with a lower EXALGO dose than usual and monitor patients for signs of sedation and respiratory depression and consider using a lower dose of the concomitant CNS depressant [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Hypotensive Effect

EXALGO may cause severe hypotension including orthostatic hypotension and syncope in ambulatory patients. There is an increased risk in patients whose ability to maintain blood pressure has already been compromised by a reduced blood volume or concurrent administration of certain CNS depressant drugs (e.g. phenothiazines or general anesthetics) [see DRUG INTERACTIONS]. Monitor these patients for signs of hypotension after initiating or titrating the dose of EXALGO.

Use in Patients with Head Injury or Increased Intracranial Pressure

Monitor patients taking EXALGO who may be susceptible to the intracranial effects of CO2 retention (e.g., those with evidence of increased intracranial pressure or brain tumors) for signs of sedation and respiratory depression, particularly when initiating therapy with EXALGO. EXALGO may reduce respiratory drive, and the resultant CO2 retention can further increase intracranial pressure. Opioids may also obscure the clinical course in a patient with a head injury. Avoid the use of EXALGO in patients with impaired consciousness or coma.

Use in Patients with Gastrointestinal Conditions

EXALGO is contraindicated in patients with paralytic ileus. Avoid the use of EXALGO in patients with other GI obstruction.

Because the EXALGO tablet is nondeformable and does not appreciably change in shape in the GI tract, EXALGO is contraindicated in patients with preexisting severe gastrointestinal narrowing (pathologic or iatrogenic, for example: esophageal motility disorders, small bowel inflammatory disease, “short gut” syndrome due to adhesions or decreased transit time, past history of peritonitis, cystic fibrosis, chronic intestinal pseudoobstruction, or Meckel's diverticulum). There have been reports of obstructive symptoms in patients with known strictures or risk of strictures, such as previous GI surgery, in association with the ingestion of drugs in nondeformable extended-release formulations.

It is possible that EXALGO tablets may be visible on abdominal x-rays under certain circumstances, especially when digital enhancing techniques are utilized.

The hydromorphone in EXALGO may cause spasm of the sphincter of Oddi. Monitor patients with biliary tract disease, including acute pancreatitis, for worsening symptoms.


EXALGO contains sodium metabisulfite, a sulfite that may cause allergic-type reactions including anaphylactic symptoms and life-threatening or less severe asthmatic episodes in certain susceptible people. The overall prevalence of sulfite sensitivity in the general population is unknown and probably low. Sulfite sensitivity is seen more frequently in asthmatic than in nonasthmatic people.

Use in Patients with Convulsive or Seizure Disorders

The hydromorphone in EXALGO may aggravate convulsions in patients with convulsive disorders, and may induce or aggravate seizures in some clinical settings. Monitor patients with a history of seizure disorders for worsened seizure control during EXALGO therapy.

Avoidance of Withdrawal

Avoid the use of mixed agonist/antagonist analgesics (i.e., pentazocine, nalbuphine, and butorphanol) in patients who have received or are receiving a course of therapy with a full opioid agonist analgesic, including EXALGO. In these patients, mixed agonists/antagonists analgesics may reduce the analgesic effect and/or may precipitate withdrawal symptoms [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

When discontinuing EXALGO, gradually taper the dose [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION]. Do not abruptly discontinue EXALGO.

Driving and Operating Machinery

EXALGO may impair the mental and/or physical abilities needed to perform potentially hazardous activities such as driving a car or operating machinery. Warn patients not to drive or operate dangerous machinery unless they are tolerant to the effects of EXALGO and know how they will react to the medication.

Patient Counseling Information

See FDA-approved patient labeling (Medication Guide)

Abuse Potential

Inform patients that EXALGO contains hydromorphone, a Schedule II controlled substance that is subject to abuse. Instruct patients not to share EXALGO with others and to take steps to protect EXALGO from theft or misuse.

Life-threatening Respiratory Depression

Discuss the risk of respiratory depression with patients, explaining that the risk is greatest when starting EXALGO or when the dose is increased. Advise patients how to recognize respiratory depression and to seek medical attention if they are experiencing breathing difficulties.

Accidental Exposure

Instruct patients to take steps to store EXALGO securely. Accidental exposure, especially in children, may result in serious harm or death. Advise patients to dispose of unused EXALGO by flushing the tablets down the toilet or remit to authorities at a certified drug take-back program.

Risks from Concomitant Use of Alcohol and other CNS Depressants

Inform patients that the concomitant use of alcohol with EXALGO can increase the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression. Instruct patients not to consume alcoholic beverages, as well as prescription and over-the-counter drug products that contain alcohol, during treatment with EXALGO.

Inform patients that potentially serious additive effects may occur if EXALGO is used with other CNS depressants, and not to use such drugs unless supervised by a health care provider.

Important Administration Instructions

Instruct patients how to properly take EXALGO, including the following:

  • Swallowing EXALGO whole
  • Not crushing, chewing, splitting or dissolving the tablets
  • Using EXALGO exactly as prescribed to reduce the risk of life-threatening adverse reactions (e.g., respiratory depression)
  • Not discontinuing EXALGO without first discussing the need for a tapering regimen with the prescriber
Gastrointestinal Blockage

Advise patients that people with certain stomach or intestinal problems such as narrowing of the intestines or previous surgery may be at higher risk of developing a blockage. Symptoms include abdominal distension, abdominal pain, severe constipation, or vomiting. Instruct patients to contact their healthcare provider immediately if they develop these symptoms.


Inform patients that EXALGO may cause orthostatic hypotension and syncope. Instruct patients how to recognize symptoms of low blood pressure and how to reduce the risk of serious consequences should hypotension occur (e.g., sit or lie down, carefully rise from a sitting or lying position).

Driving or Operating Heavy Machinery

Inform patients that EXALGO may impair the ability to perform potentially hazardous activities such as driving a car or operating heavy machinery. Advise patients not to perform such tasks until they know how they will react to the medication.


Advise patients of the potential for severe constipation, including management instructions and when to seek medical attention.


Inform patients that anaphylaxis has been reported with ingredients contained in EXALGO. Advise patients how to recognize such a reaction and when to seek medical attention.


Advise female patients that EXALGO can cause fetal harm and to inform the prescriber if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.


Advise patients that when EXALGO is no longer needed to flush the unused tablets down the toilet or remit to authorities at a certified drug take-back program.

Nonclinical Toxicology

Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility


Long-term studies to evaluate the carcinogenic potential of hydromorphone hydrochloride were completed in both Han-Wistar rats and Crl:CD1®(ICR) mice. Hydromorphone HCl was administered to Han-Wistar rats (2, 5, and 15 mg/kg/day for males, and 8, 25 and 75 mg/kg/day for females) for 2 years by oral gavage. In female rats, incidences of hibernoma (tumor of brown fat) were increased at 10.5 times the maximum recommended daily exposure based on AUC at the mid dose (2 tumor, 25 mg/kg/day) and 53.7 times the maximum recommended human daily exposure based on AUC at the maximum dose (4 tumors, 75 mg/kg/day). The clinical relevance of this finding to humans has not been established. There was no evidence of carcinogenicity in male rats. The systemic drug exposure (AUC, ng·h/mL) at the 15 mg/kg/day in male rats was 7.6 times greater than the human exposure at a single dose of 32 mg/day of EXALGO. There was no evidence of carcinogenic potential in Crl:CD1®(ICR) mice administered hydromorphone HCl at doses up to 15 mg/kg/day for 2 years by oral gavage. The systemic drug exposure (AUC, ng•h/mL) at the 15 mg/kg/day in mice was 1.1 (in males) and 1.2 (in females) times greater than the human exposure at a single dose of 32 mg/day of EXALGO.


Hydromorphone was not mutagenic in the in vitro bacterial reverse mutation assay (Ames assay). Hydromorphone was not clastogenic in either the in vitro human lymphocyte chromosome aberration assay or the in vivo mouse micronucleus assay.

Impairment of Fertility

Hydromorphone given orally to rats during the mating period caused a slight but statistically significant reduction in implantations at 6.25 mg/kg/day (~1.2 times the human exposure following to 32 mg/day).

Use In Specific Populations


Teratogenic Effects - Pregnancy Category C

There are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. Hydromorphone crosses the placenta. EXALGO should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.

Hydromorphone was not teratogenic in pregnant rats given oral doses up to 6.25 mg/kg/day or in pregnant rabbits administered oral doses up to 25 mg/kg/day during the period of organogenesis (~1.2 times the human exposure following 32 mg/day).

Hydromorphone administration to pregnant Syrian hamsters and CF-1 mice during major organ development revealed teratogenicity likely the result of maternal toxicity associated with sedation and hypoxia. In Syrian hamsters given single subcutaneous doses from 14 to 258 mg/kg during organogenesis (gestation days 8 to 10), doses ≥ 19 mg/kg hydromorphone produced skull malformations (exencephaly and cranioschisis). Continuous infusion of hydromorphone (5 mg/kg, s.c.) via implanted osmotic mini pumps during organogenesis (gestation days 7 to 10) produced soft tissue malformations (cryptorchidism, cleft palate, malformed ventricals and retina), and skeletal variations (supraoccipital, checkerboard and split sternebrae, delayed ossification of the paws and ectopic ossification sites). The malformations and variations observed in the hamsters and mice were at doses approximately three-fold higher and < one-fold lower, respectively, than a 32 mg human daily oral dose on a body surface area basis.

Nonteratogenic Effects

In the pre- and post-natal effects study in rats, neonatal viability was reduced at 6.25 mg/kg/day (~1.2 times the human exposure following 32 mg/day).

Neonates born to mothers who have been taking opioids regularly prior to delivery will be physically dependent. The withdrawal signs include irritability and excessive crying, tremors, hyperactive reflexes, increased respiratory rate, increased stools, sneezing, yawning, vomiting, and fever. The intensity of the syndrome does not always correlate with the duration of maternal opioid use or dose. There is no consensus on the best method of managing withdrawal. Approaches to the treatment of the syndrome have included supportive care and, if indicated, drugs such as paregoric or phenobarbital.

Labor and Delivery

EXALGO is not for use in women during and immediately prior to labor, where shorter acting analgesics or other analgesic techniques are more appropriate [see INDICATIONS AND USAGE]. Occasionally, opioid analgesics may prolong labor by temporarily reducing the strength, duration, and frequency of uterine contractions. However, these effects are not consistent and may be offset by an increased rate of cervical dilatation which tends to shorten labor.

Opioids cross the placenta and may produce respiratory depression and psychophysiologic effects in neonates. Closely observe neonates whose mothers received opioid analgesics during labor for signs of respiratory depression. An opioid antagonist, such as naloxone, should be available for reversal of opioid-induced respiratory depression in the neonate in such situations.

Nursing Mothers

Low concentrations of hydromorphone have been detected in human milk in clinical trials. Withdrawal symptoms can occur in breastfeeding infants when maternal administration of an opioid analgesic is stopped. Nursing should not be undertaken while a patient is receiving EXALGO since hydromorphone is excreted in the milk.

Pediatric Use

The safety and effectiveness of EXALGO in patients 17 years of age and younger have not been established.

Geriatric Use

Elderly patients have been shown to be more sensitive to the adverse effects of opioids compared to the younger population. Therefore, closely monitor elderly patients for respiratory and central nervous system depression when prescribing EXALGO, particularly during initiation and titration.

Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome

Chronic maternal use of hydromorphone during pregnancy can affect the neonate with subsequent withdrawal signs. Neonatal withdrawal syndrome presents as irritability, hyperactivity and abnormal sleep pattern, high pitched cry, tremor, vomiting, diarrhea and failure to gain weight. The onset, duration and severity of neonatal withdrawal syndrome vary based on the drug used, duration of use, the dose of last maternal use, and rate of elimination drug by the newborn. Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome may be life-threatening and should be treated according to protocols developed by neonatology experts.

Hepatic Impairment

In a study that used a single 4 mg oral dose of immediate-release hydromorphone tablets, four-fold increases in plasma levels of hydromorphone (Cmax and AUC0-∞) were observed in patients with moderate hepatic impairment (Child-Pugh Group B). Start patients with moderate hepatic impairment on 25% of the EXALGO dose that would be used in patients with normal hepatic function. Closely monitor patients with moderate hepatic impairment for respiratory and central nervous system depression during initiation of therapy with EXALGO and during dose titration. The pharmacokinetics of hydromorphone in severe hepatic impairment patients have not been studied. As further increases in Cmax and AUC0-∞ of hydromorphone in this group are expected, use of alternate analgesics is recommended [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].

Renal Impairment

Administration of a single 4 mg dose of immediate-release hydromorphone tablets resulted in two-fold and four-fold increases in plasma levels of hydromorphone (Cmax and AUC0-48h) in moderate (CLcr = 40 to 60 mL/min) and severe (CLcr < 30 mL/min) impairment, respectively. In addition, in patients with severe renal impairment hydromorphone appeared to be more slowly eliminated with longer terminal elimination half-life (40 hours) compared to subjects with normal renal function (15 hours). Start patients with moderate renal impairment on 50% and patients with severe renal impairment on 25% of the EXALGO dose that would be prescribed for patients with normal renal function. Closely monitor patients with renal impairment for respiratory and central nervous system depression during initiation of therapy with EXALGO and during dose titration. As EXALGO is only intended for once daily administration, consider use of an alternate analgesic that may permit more flexibility with the dosing interval in patients with severe renal impairment [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].

Last reviewed on RxList: 3/27/2013
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.


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