Opioids are generally safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor and for a short period of time. However, misuse or long-term use of opioids can lead to risks such as opioid dependence, addiction, and life-threatening overdose.
It is estimated that about 8%-12% of people taking opioids develop an opioid dependence disorder.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs, often referred to as narcotics, that are used to relieve pain. These medications are typically prescribed to treat chronic and acute pain caused by injury, surgery, and cancer. Milder forms of the drug may be used for arthritis or low back pain.
Opioids work by blocking pain signals between the brain and the body. In addition to controlling pain, opioids can be addictive due to their effect on making people feel relaxed, happy, or high.
Some of the most used opioids include:
What are the risks of long-term opioid use?
Regular and long-term use of these prescription opioids can increase tolerance and dependence, requiring higher and more frequent doses. In some cases, this can even lead to addiction or opioid use disorder.
Other potential medical risks include:
- Limited ability to breathe (respiratory depression)
- Decrease in heart rate and blood pressure
- Memory problems
- Serious fractures
- Breathing difficulty during sleep
- Chronic constipation
- Bowel obstruction
- Myocardial infarction
- Tooth decay secondary to xerostomia
How are opioids taken?
Opioids can be either short-acting or long-acting:
- Short-acting: Prescribed for pain that lasts only a few days
- Long-acting: Often called rescue medication and used for severe pain
- Takes a little longer to work
- Provides steady pain relief for 8-12 hours
Depending on the need, opioids can be administered in the following forms:
- Oral pill or liquid
- Nasal spray
- Skin patch
- Dissolvable pills under the tongue
- Intravenous (shot into a vein)
- Intramuscular (shot into a muscle)
- Epidural (shot into the space surrounding the spinal cord)
- Implanted pump
What are signs of opioid overdose?
Some signs of overdose or overmedication include:
How take prescription opioids safely
Although all medications should be taken with caution, extra care is required when taking opioids:
- Take the medication exactly as prescribed
- Do not take extra doses
- Do not break, chew, crush, or dissolve pills
- Store opioids in a safe place, away from the reach of children
- Dispose of unused medication properly
- Avoid driving or using machinery while on opiods
- Contact your doctor if you experience any side effects
Latest Medications News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Opioid Addiction. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Opioid Medications. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/opioid-medicationsv WebMD. What Are Opioids. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/opioids-opiates-explained
Von Korff M, Kolodny A, Deyo RA, Chou R. Long-term opioid therapy reconsidered. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(5):325-328. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3280085
Top Are Any Opioids Safe Related Articles
Benzodiazepines vs. Narcotics (Opioids)
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that cause drowsiness and are used to treat insomnia, seizures, anxiety disorders, nervousness, panic disorders, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, status epilepticus, premenstrual syndrome, and as sedation during surgery. Narcotic (opioid) analgesics are used to treat moderate to severe pain. Both benzodiazepines and narcotics (opioids) are common drugs of abuse.
Chronic PainChronic pain is pain (an unpleasant sense of discomfort) that persists or progresses over a long period of time. In contrast to acute pain that arises suddenly in response to a specific injury and is usually treatable, chronic pain persists over time and is often resistant to medical treatments.
Chronic Pain Syndrome: Treatment and Management for CPSDo you suffer from excruciating pain? What is chronic pain syndrome (CPS)? See causes, symptoms and treatment options, including medications. Learn about pain management tips such as strength training, biofeedback, and yoga, as well as forms of chronic pain such as lower back pain, arthritis, and migraines.
Opioid Dependence QuizWhat are opioids? Take this quiz to learn about opioids (opiates, narcotic pain killers) as well as addiction and dependence that has now become an epidemic.
Oxycodone vs. OxyContinOxyContin and oxycodone are both pain-relieving prescription medications, or analgesics, that belong to opioid or narcotic drugs. Opioids are extracted from the poppy plant or its synthetic derivatives. Although opioids play a significant role in medicine in managing acute and chronic pain, they have a high potential of being abused.
OxyContin (oxycodone)OxyContin is a prescription opioid pain medication used to manage pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term treatment. Serious side effects of OxyContin include noisy breathing, shallow breathing, breathing that stops during sleep (sleep apnea), slow heart rate or weak pulse, lightheadedness, confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior, seizure, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, and worsening tiredness or weakness.
Pain Relief Options for ChildbirthWomen experience and tolerate pain differently. For some pregnant women, focused breathing is all they need to get through labor and childbirth; but for others, numbing of the pain is desired. There are a number of different medications a woman can take during labor and childbirth. It is important for you to learn what pain relief options are available. Please discuss the options with your health care professional well before your "birth day" so that when you are in labor you understand the choices.
15 Ways to Reduce PainChronic pain can be a symptom of many conditions, including arthritis, headaches, and others. Comprehensive chronic pain management therapy may include physical therapy, lifestyle strategies such as exercise, diet changes, meditation, journaling, medications, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use. Make helpful changes to manage your chronic condition.
What Are Opioid Equivalents and Conversions?Opioid drugs are all different permutations of highly addictive chemicals, natural or synthetic, that act on the human opioid receptors to kill pain. Switching patients from one to another may be necessary for many reasons, whether cost, drug availability or the patient developing a tolerance. Opioid equivalents and conversions charts allow doctors to switch drugs while maintaining the same level of painkilling effectiveness and avoiding overdosing the patient.
What Are the 6 Types of Drug Dependence?Drug dependence results from drug abuse. The 6 types of drug dependence are alcohol, opioid, hypnotics/sedative, cannabis, hallucinogen, and cocaine dependence.
What Is the Most Common Treatment for Chronic Pain?Chronic pain is long-lasting and persistent and lasts for months or years. The most common treatments for chronic pain are NSAIDs, acetaminophen, COX-2 inhibitors, antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines, and opioids.