What are opioids?

There are varying degrees of power between the different pain management drugs and techniques we use. They all have their own individual pros and cons. One of the most infamous of all pain management drugs in the United States is opioids. They are in the news quite often and are known to be addictive which can lead to issues.

Here is some information about opioids, the different types, and how they can be aimed at reducing pain the right way.

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How do opioids work?

Just like many of the other pain management methods, opioids are aimed at blocking and reducing pain signals to the brain. Some of the most common forms of opioids prescribed include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
  • Methadone
  • OcyContin (Oxycodone)

They all have different uses and tread different kinds of pain. Some are meant to help wean recovering narcotics users off of the drugs that they have become addicted to.

Opioids used to treat pain

Opioids happen to be very effective for treating both acute and chronic pain. They are often prescribed after injuries. If you are suffering from chronic pain, they are also known to be prescribed in some situations.

Regardless of their usefulness, the side effects of opioids can be various. Some of them include drowsiness, nausea/vomiting, confusion, dizziness, and constipation. One or all of these side effects can be present in any case of opioid use.

Aside from these, the more serious side effects that come about with opioid use are addiction and death from overdose. These are the issues that you see highlighted in the media quite often. They are serious risks, but with the right education, patients know their limits and can be prescribed lesser doses. Most of the overdose cases you hear about in the news come from people self-medicating and buying from street dealers. When you do this, you risk subjecting your body to a drug that is often counterfeit. These can contain many harmful substances used to “cut” the drug for increased profits.

Opioids can hinder the breathing ability of some patients which can cause suffocation and death. This risk comes about when dosages are higher than they should be or when someone decides to take their opioids along with other drugs or alcohol. You need to be serious when using this type of drug. They are potent and meant only for people suffering from extreme pain. They can be highly addictive.


Increased tolerance to opioids

Over the span of a few months, it is not clear whether or not taking these kinds of drugs remains helpful to patients. The dosages often need to be increased for patients to continue feeling results. This is where addiction often comes in. When the doctor loses the ability to limit the dosage to less addictive levels, there is a much higher risk of developing an opioid addiction.

Lesser-known alternatives

Painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycodone are not always necessary for reducing pain. They carry a serious risk of addiction, but there are other alternatives with lesser risk. One of the safer known alternative opioids is buprenorphine. It is able to block pain like the other drugs, but at higher dosages, it is not more effective. There is less chance of risk when dosages don’t increase due to a heightened tolerance. Drugs like buprenorphine are less addictive.

Regardless of the potential benefits, it is not always possible to use buprenorphine. It depends on the pain you are feeling and what is causing it. Ask your doctor if it might be right for you. It is a good option if you are concerned about developing an addiction or have a history of addiction.

There is research going on constantly to develop newer medications with fewer side effects and chance of an addiction. We may not be there just yet, but we have some of the best scientists in the world doing research for pharmaceutical companies to develop safer, less-addictive drugs. As things develop, we will always keep you updated!

If you need help managing pain in the Atlanta area, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help.

Thanks for reading,

Comprehensive Spine & Pain