Patients with chronic pain who are prescribed opioids for pain relief understandably want to know what the possible drawbacks of such prescriptions are. Opioid analgesics are powerful drugs that can effectively alleviate pain when taken by mouth or injected. However, these medications carry significant health risks that patients should be made aware of before beginning any treatment program. Opioid analgesics may also be called narcotic analgesics since they act on the central nervous system and the brain’s endorphin system (1)(1a).
In spite of their efficacy in treating acute and chronic pain, opioids have serious limitations. They can be habit-forming and can lead to heroin abuse, which can then lead to addiction. There are similar concerns about increasing opioid analgesic usage, both outside the United States and in other countries . Unfortunately, despite current knowledge about the long-term safety and efficacy of opioid analgesic usage, much clinical knowledge about the effectiveness and safety of these drugs is still scarce .
Common Opioid Analgesics
Doctors prescribing opioids for non-medical use typically prescribe these medications to treat moderate to severe pain. Commonly prescribed medications include codeine, hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and morphine. These medications include both alkaloids and opioids; however, opioids only contain one opiate, which is codeine. In fact, all opioids are classified in the same way as cocaine and heroin; the difference is that opiates are not molecularly identical to these other drugs.
Prescription Opioids and Addiction
Although it is true that prescription opioids are highly addictive and that addiction can be difficult to overcome, many researchers believe that the negative consequences of opioid analgesics are overstated and that patients should not be scared off by the idea of becoming addicted to them. In fact, some recent studies suggest that opioid analgesics may be used for pain relief by individuals who are not addicted to them, but who have physical problems that make pain management necessary. This may be particularly true of patients who suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or obesity.
Alternative Usage of Opioid Analgesics to Mitigate Risks
As more is learned about the adverse effects of opioids, both doctors and patients are gravitating toward alternatives to their use. While it is nearly impossible to completely reverse past habits and increase the risk for future infections, it is clear that the increased risk of infections can be reduced through the use of non-narcotic prescription medications. The National Institutes of Health is conducting several studies looking at the effects of opioid analgesics on infections and is currently examining whether the use of these medications might reduce the risk of infections in certain populations.
It is important to note that the increased risk of infections should not be seen as a reason to avoid using medications that treat chronic pain. Many scientists believe that there is an inherent potential for addiction when treating patients for long periods of time. For this reason, clinics that work with opioid analgesics as a form of therapy will work closely with patients to ensure that they are aware of all the precautions that need to be taken in order to prevent addiction. It is also important to remember that even if an individual’s health insurance covers some forms of therapy, there may be a high deductible for opioid analgesics. For this reason, it is very important to speak with an experienced pain management physician in order to determine the best course of treatment for your specific case.
Some Opioids Medication With Promising Results.
One of the most promising avenues of treatment for individuals suffering from pain is through the use of novel drug cocktails containing either naloxone or fentanyl. Both opioids are highly powerful and provide many of the same positive results as heroin and morphine. However, unlike heroin and morphine, which are inherently addictive, naloxone and fentanyl do not produce a strong dependency or tolerance build up upon use. In fact, these drugs are much more easily tolerated by the body, leading users to experience fewer side effects over time. This is important because of how the abuse of prescription medications has led to the resurgence of widespread drug addiction and the rise in substance abuse.
When combined with other drugs, such as naltrexone, naloxone creates a highly potent concoction that can temporarily reverse or prevent the adverse physical and psychological side effects produced by long-term use of powerful prescription narcotics. However, even with the temporary alleviation of these side effects, it is important to note that it is not uncommon for Opioid Analgesic patients to experience an increase in heroin withdrawal symptoms when taking these drugs. For this reason, it is important for an Opioid Analgesic patient to be fully assessed by a trained medical staff before taking these medications. For more information on this and other forms of treatment, please talk to your doctor.