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Opioid Medications

Opioid Medications

Opioid Medication or opioids, sometimes known as narcotics, are medicines under the doctor’s prescription to treat persistent or severe pain. The three broad categories of people using it include:

  • People with chronic headaches and back pains;
  • Patients experiencing severe pain in association with cancer or recovering from surgery; and
  • Adults or children getting hurt while playing sports or got severely injured in falls or accidents.

What are Prescription Opioids?

Opioids are a category of drugs naturally available in the opium poppy plant. Manufacturing of some prescription opioids is from the plant directly, and development of others by scientists in the labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often helpful as medicines because they contain chemicals that can relieve pain and relax the body.

Usually, prescription opioids help treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids are known to be treating diarrhea and coughing. Opioids can also make people reach a maximum level of relaxation and “high,” which is why people sometimes use them for non-medical reasons. It can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, incidents of overdose and death are common. The world’s most hazardous opioid is heroin and is ban in the United States as a medicine.

How does Opioid Medications work?

Opioids attach to protein (called opioid receptors) on nerve cells of the spinal cord, brain, gut, and other body parts. When this happens, the opioids block pain sensations sent from the body through the spinal cord to the body. Opioids can effectively relieve pain, but it also carries some risks and can be highly addictive. The addiction risk is exceptionally high when one uses opioids to manage chronic pain over a longer duration than prescribed.

Are they’re different kinds of Opioids?

There is a wide variety of opioid that is available by several names, including:

  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone

These medications are often available under the brand names of Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Palladone.

Doctors prescribe different types of opioids in different strengths that one can administer in various forms, depends upon the patients, their situation, and the type and level of pain.

Some standard prescription opioid medicines are:

  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Morphine (Avinza, Kadian)
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin)
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine

Heroin is a highly addictive analgesic drug and illegal form of opioid with no approved medical use.

How to take Opioids?

Many opioids are available in pill form, but one can take them in lollipops or lozenges form. Administration of some of them is through a vein, by injection, or through an IV, and one can deliver others through a patch on the skin or with a suppository.

How to use Opioids to manage pain safely?

Opioids can become a part of an effective pain management system. Still, to help avoid the risk of addiction and side effects, you should use them under a proper physician’s supervision only.

Physician anesthesiologists- doctors who specialize in pain management, anesthesia, and critical care medicine- have extensive training and experience in prescription opioid and non-opioid pain medications. To ensure maximum pain management, an anesthesiologist physician can work with you and helps you control pain while minimizing the risk of addiction and side effects.

If you are taking prescribed opioids, follow these safety tips:

  • Talk to your doctor or physician anesthesiologist: ensure that you are taking all alternative pain medications that don’t carry a risk of addiction. If an opioid drug remains the best option, ask how to minimize the risk of side effects. Provide enough information on your medical conditions and tell them if you were taking opioids in the past, tell the physician how that opioid affected you. Also, tell your medical healthcare provider if you have a past addiction to alcohol or drugs; people having a history of alcohol may be more susceptible to misusing substances like opioids.
  • Be aware of side effects: some opioid side effects may be mild, such as constipation and sleepiness, while others, including slow heart rate, shallow breathing, and loss of consciousness, can be severe and may be signs of an overdose. Ask your physician for tips to be aware of and how to avoid potential problems. Contact your doctor or pharmacist or call 911 if you ever experience possible symptoms of an overdose.
  • Take opioids only as per the directions: read carefully and follow all the prescription label instructions. If you are taking other medications, ask your physician whether it is safe to take opioids or not.
  • Surgery: if you are taking opioids while preparing for surgery, check with your physician, anesthesiologist, surgeon, and other physicians who are treating you. Chronic use of opioids raises the risk of complications due to surgery and can lengthen your stay at the hospital. Your medical healthcare team helps you in safely managing your pain before surgery.

You can ask your physician about other pain management alternatives, including:

  • Nondrug therapies: many people seek relief with alternative therapies, such as medication, biofeedback, acupuncture, and massages. You may also find a replacement with interventional treatments, such as surgical procedures concerning nerves causing the pain are separated or nerve blocks. Your medical healthcare provider will see what is best in your medical condition and recommend you the most beneficial treatment.
  • Combination therapy: opioids may alone not always fully control your pain. Combining opioid medicines with other medical or non-medical treatments under the care of a physician can improve your pain management and result in suppressing your need for a lower dosage of opioids.
  • Injection or implants: if you have nerve pain or muscle spasms, injecting other medications or local anesthetics can help lessen your pain. If you have chronic pain in your arms, back, or legs, an anesthesiologist might suggest spinal cord stimulation, in which they implant a device in your back and blocks pain by supplying electric pulses to your spinal cord and nerves.

How do opioids affect the body and the brain?

Opioids activate opioid receptors and bind to the cells located in many areas of the spinal cord, brain, and other body organs, especially those that play a part in pain and pleasure feelings. When opioids interact with these receptors, they block sensations sent to the body through the brain and release a large amount of dopamine throughout the body. This emancipation can strongly reinforce taking the drug, making the drug user desire to repeat the experience. Opioids can also have harmful effects on the brain and body, including:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Shallow breathing
  • Euphoria

Opioid misuse can result in slow breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition resulting when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short-term and long-term neurological and psychological effects, including permanent brain damage, coma, or death. Researchers are working on the investigation of long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain, including whether there is a reversal of the damage or not.

What are other health effects of opioids?

Older adults are more likely to be at higher risks of accidental abuse or misuse because they usually have multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases, increasing the risk of drug-disease and drug-drug interactions, along with a slow metabolism that affects the breakdown of drugs. Never share your drug injection equipment with someone else because it leads to impairing judgment and can induce the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV from sex without using protection.

How to stop taking prescribed opioids?

It would help if you did not suddenly stop taking opioids, or you could face withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia or jittery nerves. Hence, it is beneficial to work with a doctor or your physician anesthesiologist to wean yourself off or taper and ultimately stop the treatment.

Your physician anesthesiologist may:

  • Monitor your withdrawal symptoms
  • Individualize your tapering plan to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms
  • Guide you to additional sources of support
  • Adjust the duration and rate of the tapering according to your response

It is essential to know what issues you may face when you start cutting back on the medication. Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Drug cravings
  • Abdominal pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors (shaking)

One can minimize these symptoms through consultation with the appropriate specialists, slow reduction in dosage, and psychological support for anxiety.

What are the benefits of stopping opioid medications?

While withdrawal symptoms can be tough to endure, one can manage them effectively with positive results, especially with a specialist like an anesthesiologist. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most patients have improved functions without worsening pain after stopping opioids. Some people have even felt improved pain relief after wearing off the medication, even though initially the pain might briefly get worse. Additionally, other therapies with lesser risks and side effects may be effective in pain management.

Because opioids mask pain, withdrawing them can also offer the pain management specialist a better understanding of your discomfort’s level and nature. With its help, the physician can better assess which alternative medical treatment could be effective for your condition.

What are the aftermaths of taking opioid medications?

Side effects to opioids may include:

  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation

Opioids can also cause serious side effects that may be life-threatening. You should report to the doctor if you encounter any of the following symptoms of an opioid overdose:

  • Slow heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Besides, if you suddenly stop using opioid medicines, you may sometimes experience withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia or jittery nerves.

There is a possibility of addiction also. Opioids can make your brain acc that the drug is necessary for your survival. As you begin tolerating the prescribed doses, you may see that you even need more medications to relieve the pain, which may sometimes result in addiction. A survey by the NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) says more than two million Americans misuse opioids, and every day more than 90 Americans die due to opioid overdose.


Can I take prescription opioids during my pregnancy?

If a pregnant woman uses opioid medicines during pregnancy, the baby could become drug-dependent and have withdrawal symptoms after birth. It is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which needs proper medical treatment. The use of opioids during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage and low birth weight.

It is not easy for an opioid-addicted person to quit, but a pregnant woman seeking medical treatment has better outcomes than those who stop using opioids abruptly. Buprenorphine and methadone are the standard methods to treat opioid-dependent pregnant women. Combining methadone or buprenorphine with parental care and a comprehensive drug treatment program can improve adverse outcomes related to untreated opioid addiction. If a woman fails to quit before becoming pregnant, treatment with buprenorphine or methadone enhances the chance of giving birth to a healthier baby.

Typically, it is crucial to closely monitor women trying to quit drug use during pregnancy and offer treatment as needed.

Can someone overdose on prescription opioids?

Overdose can occur in the case of prescription opioids. An opioid overdose happens when a person uses enough of the drug that causes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms or death. Overdose of opioid medication can slow down or stop your breathing. It can decrease the oxygen amount that reaches the brain, which can lead to permanent brain damage, coma, or death.

How to treat an opioid overdose?

If you suspect an overdose, the essential step is to call 911 for medical attention. Let the medical personnel administer naloxone. Naloxone helps treat an opioid overdose when one gets it right away. It functions by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the opioid drug effects. Naloxone is available as a hand-held auto-injector, injectable (needle) solution, and a nasal spray.

Some states allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. It allows family, friends, and others in the community to use the nasal spray and auto-injector versions of naloxone to save the life of someone going through an overdose.

How many types of treatment opioid-dependent people seek?

A range of treatments, including medications and behavioral therapies, are effective in helping opioid-addicted people.

Methadone and buprenorphine work by binding the same opioid receptors in the brain as the opioid medications, reducing increased urge to use the medicine and withdrawal symptoms. Another medicine, naltrexone, prevents opioid drugs from having an adverse effect by blocking opioid receptors.

Behavioral therapies for prescription opioids addiction help people modify their attitudes and behavior related to drug abuse, induce healthy life skills, and persist with other treatment forms, such as medication. It includes:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapies help modify the patient’s drug use behaviors and expectations and manage triggers and stress effectively.
  2. Multidimensional family therapy is for adolescents with drug use problems, addresses a range of family and personal influences on one’s drug use patterns, and is made to improve overall functioning.

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