Opioids are a group of medications commonly prescribed to help treat pain. Your primary care provider may suggest a non-opioid option first, or even suggest a combination of opioid and non-opioid options such as physical therapy, exercise or even stress reducing techniques and meditation. This website is a good place to learn about some of the different options that can be part of your pain management plan.
How do opioids work?
Opioids work by binding to certain receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract to reduce pain. Because they are powerful, and can slow down breathing, they are mostly only available by prescription and are usually closely monitored. It is important to remember that everyone’s treatment plan is unique to them and that while opioids can be helpful, but they may not work for everyone or every type of pain. The type and dose prescribed may also be different, so it is important to avoid comparing one person’s treatment plan with someone else’s. There is no one size fits all.
What do opioids look like?
Opioids come in different forms like tablets and capsules, syrups, liquids for injections, nasal sprays and skin patches. There are many names for the different types of opioids, you may have heard of some of them. They include:
- Codeine (Tylenol #1, #2, #3)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Hydromorph Contin)
- Morphine (Statex, MS Contin, M-Eslon)
- Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin, OxyNEO)
There are other types of opioids. If you are concerned about a medication, or are wondering if it is an opioid, speak with your primary care provider to learn more.
Risks and side effects
While opioids can be helpful, there are potential risks and side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects that can be bothersome include nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry skin and itching. You may also experience headaches, confusion, drowsiness and dizziness. If these side effects concern you, talk with your primary care provider as he/she may be able to help reduce or eliminate bothersome side effects.
Following your primary care provider’s instructions carefully will help you to avoid more serious and potentially dangerous risks associated with opioids such as slowed breathing, addiction and overdose. Contact your primary care provider if you have concerns that you are experiencing serious side effects. If there are concerns that someone may be having an overdose, call 911 immediately for help.
You may have heard of the increasing concerns surrounding opioids. In the wrong hands, opioids can be addictive and lead to dangerous outcomes like overdose and death. Opioid prescriptions should be stored in a safe place out of easy reach. Any left-over medications should be returned to your local pharmacy and not thrown in the garbage or flushed down the toilet. Safely disposing of opioid medications can help ensure that these powerful medications do not end up in the hands of someone whom the opioids were not intended for.