Poly(epsilon-caprolactone) microspheres containing bupivacaine were prepared by the spray-drying process. The average size of drug loaded microspheres was less than 3 microm in diameter, and the percentage of entrapment efficiency was 91 +/- 3%. In vitro drug release kinetic in phosphate buffer at 37 degrees C showed a hyperbolic profile, with a burst-effect during the first hour. Subcutaneous injection of bupivacaine-loaded microspheres in the back of rats caused an increase in drug concentration in plasma. Maximum bupivacaine concentration in plasma was 237 +/- 58 ng/ml at 105 h, and drug was detected in plasma for 16 days. The half-life time of the drug was increased by more than 125 times with regard to that of the drug administered in a solution by intraperitoneal injection. After 30 days of injection, a mass formed by microspheres surrounded by a thin fibrous capsule was observed. Small blood vessels and multinucleate foreign body giant cells with macrophagic function around microspheres were detected. After 60 days of injection a subcutaneous mass was also observed, which was formed of more degraded dispersed microspheres in conjunctive tissue, which had a normal structure. Thus, bupivacaine-loaded poly(epsilon-caprolactone) microspheres could be considered as a device to be used in the treatment of severe pain that is not responsive to opioids for example in cancer-related syndromes or in intractable herpetic neuralgia.