When faced with an injury, surgery, or chronic condition, many people turn to their physicians for help in managing their pain. Certain circumstances warrant the use of a stronger medication than those commonly found on drugstore shelves, and some of the best and most effective pain relievers out there fall into the opioid class of medication. While opioids are very good pain management aids, they have the potential for misuse if they fall into the wrong hands. Here is an overview of these medications, how they work, and how to avoid the common pitfalls associated with their use.
Common Opioids & How They Work
Opioid drugs are a class of medication that acts by binding to opioid receptors within the central nervous system. These medications act not only by reducing the pain sensation but also causing varying degrees of sedation, resulting in a relaxed, pain-free feeling. Opioids are often used to reduce the pain following surgery, dental pain, and pain associated with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and cancer. Common opioids include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Hydrocodone is often given to patients in combination with other analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen when used for Pain Management, and oxycodone is also often combined with other drugs in a similar fashion.
Most members of the public who are prescribed opioids will receive a fairly limited prescription lasting about a week with no refills, although according to a recent CDC report, the rate of these prescriptions is rising – the amount of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. If faced with a surgery or other situation in which an opioid drug is prescribed, patients are advised to take their medication only as indicated, generally every 4-6 hours as needed. When the pain has subsided, all opioid drugs should be discarded and never shared or used for recreation.
Dependence & Addiction
Due to the nature of opioid drugs, many patients notice that along with their pain relief comes feeling of euphoria. When a person has been feeling a great deal of discomfort that is suddenly relieved by a medication experiences euphoria, it can be very difficult to give that feeling up when the prescription runs out, leaving some users to seek out alternative sources of the drug after their pain goes away, and the results are sobering. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, painkiller abuse and overdose is now responsible for more yearly deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. Patients should strive to never take more than the prescribed dosage.
Long Term Use
In some cases, opioids are used for long-term pain management, and their efficacy has a proven track record. In “Long-term Efficacy and Safety of Opioid Therapy for Chronic Non-cancer Pain: Evidence from Randomized and Open-label Studies,”Matsuno, Wallace, Glanzman, et al. found that opioids are effective in both reducing pain and improving mental function when given to patients with chronic conditions. Again, the key here is safe and prescribed usage in order to avoid the dangers of overuse.
Opioid drugs are very effective at controlling pain, provided they are used as directed. Any patient with concern about opioid drugs should discuss their feelings and thoughts thoroughly with a doctor or pharmacist before using this type of medication.