Opioid Overview

What are opioids?

Opioids are powerful pain relievers prescribed by doctors to treat acute and chronic pain.

They are used by people with various types of pain, including headaches, backaches, surgery recovery, cancer-related issues, and pain from injuries. Opioids can be dangerous, as they are extremely addictive and prone to overmedication errors. Most opioids come in a pill or tablet taken orally, but sometimes doctors prescribe patches with stronger opioids.

How do opioids work?

Opioids block pain signals in the brain, spinal cord, and other nerve cells in the body. They are available in both short- and long-acting forms. Short-acting forms work quickly but lose effectiveness after a brief period. Long-acting forms take more time to activate but remain effective for longer. Opioids may not remove all your pain, but they will reduce it to help improve your daily quality of life.

What are some potential side effects?

Opioids can cause:

  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

Opioids affect everyone differently, and different opioids and doses may have different side effects. Do not operate heavy machinery until after you know how opioids affect you. Do not mix opioids with alcohol, illegal drugs, or other medicines unless otherwise cleared by your doctor.

The most concerning issue associated with opioids is addiction. Your body and brain can become dependent on the drug and can cause your tolerance level to increase. This may cause you to need more medication to relieve the pain, resulting in higher and higher doses and ultimately, addiction. Opioid addiction is a severe problem in the US, with close to 130 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

What are the different types of opioids?

Opioids can go by many names, including:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Thebaine
  • Pethidine
  • Levorphanol
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Dextropropoxyphene

In addition, the same medication may be sold under different brand names, or you may see the drug’s generic name on your prescription bottle. Opioids also come in the form of pain patches, lozenges, lollipops, injections, or through an IV. It is important to understand which medicine you are taking. Your doctor will determine what strength and form you need for your specific situation.

Safe Use of Opioids

woman taking pill

How Do I Safely Take Opioids?

Opioids should only be used under a doctor’s supervision, and only as directed by your doctor. Before starting opioids, tell your doctor about all other medicines and supplements you are taking to prevent dangerous medication interactions. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully. If you miss a dose, do not take two doses when you remember. If you have any questions on how to take your medicine, call your doctor.

What Are Some Signs of an Opioid Overdose?

Anyone using opioids is at risk for overdose. If this is your first time taking opioids, you are more at risk for overdose than someone who has taken them in the past. Some signs of overdose include:

  • Dizziness
  • Brain Fog
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Difficulty waking up from sleep

Can an Opioid Overdose Be Reversed?

Emergency professionals may administer Naloxone, a prescription medicine administered as an injection that blocks the effects of opioids. It quickly reverses breathing problems and can be life-saving for opioid overdose patients.

How Do I Safely Stop Taking Opioids?

Suddenly stopping opioid use can cause withdrawal symptoms, so it is important to work with your doctor to develop a plan to wean yourself off and ultimately stop taking the medication. It is important to know what withdrawal symptoms to expect when you start tapering off the medication. Symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Jittery behavior
  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors

While these symptoms can often be difficult to tolerate, effective management is possible with the assistance of your doctor or a specialist. Some patients even experience a decrease in pain after stopping opioid use. Alternative therapies with fewer side effects and risks may be equally or more effective at managing pain as opioids.

It is also important to consider stopping opioid treatment because they mask pain. Your doctor may understand your pain better if their assessment is free of interference from opioids so they can recommend other effective alternative treatments.

opioid use

What Alternative Options are Available?

There are many alternative options available to help treat chronic pain.

  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS)
  • Injections or nerve blocks
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Biofeedback
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgical procedures

These treatments are often given in combination with opioids in order to better control pain. Additionally, lifestyle changes can have dramatic impacts on chronic pain. Getting regular sleep, stopping smoking, and eating healthy can all have an effect on your level of discomfort.

What's Next?

If opioids are not controlling your chronic pain, there are steps you can take to improve your quality of life. A board-certified interventional pain management doctor specially trained to treat chronic pain with a multi-modality approach may be able to help.

MidSouth Pain Treatment Center is highly recognized as a professional leader for interventional treatments in pain management. The highly trained and compassionate staff utilizes state-of-the-art equipment and innovative techniques in the treatment of all types of chronic pain as well as acute shingles pain and migraine headache pain. We have locations in Tennessee and Mississippi, including two surgery centers, conveniently located to serve the MidSouth area and beyond.