What are the Uses and Dangers of Prescription Opioids
August 24, 2016

What are the Uses and Dangers of Prescription Opioids?

Pain often takes the form of minor aches, temporary bouts of sharp pain or chronic pain. For those pains beyond the norm, doctors may prescribe medication that is stronger than typical over-the-counter pain relievers. Opioids are a class of prescription painkillers that help blunt severe pain, but using them may also carry risks.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a type of medication that is often used to treat moderate to severe pain. Morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and codeine are all forms of opioid pain medication. Morphine is a naturally occurring opioid, and it is produced from the Asian poppy opium plant. Oxycodone is a partially synthetic opioid derived from a specific chemical in the opium plant. Methadone is a fully synthetic opioid.

Whatever form of opioid you may be taking, they all interact similarly with the opioid receptors in your body. They bind with the opioid receptors, which measure your experience of pain, and alter them so your pain sensations are lessened. By taking a prescription opioid, your body changes the way it experiences and processes pain.

What are Opioids Prescribed for?

Opioids are typically prescribed for pain, whether intense, short-term pain or chronic pain. Because of the way they interact with the brain, opioids can help you endure the discomfort often associated with surgery or they can be used to manage chronic pain.

Morphine is typically utilized for severe pre- and post-surgery pain. Hydrocodone is often prescribed for injuries or dental pain, and codeine is usually directed toward milder pain. Occasionally, some opioids may also be used to relieve coughing or intense diarrhea.

Because it is a fully synthetic opioid, methadone has a different use in the world of prescription opioids. While it can be administered for pain relief, methadone’s primary use involves treatment of opioid dependence and addiction. It interacts with the same receptors as other opioids, but because it has a longer release cycle, methadone doesn’t produce the same high as other opioids. Due to this, methadone can be used to reduce withdrawal and craving symptoms.

Are There Risks Associated with Using Prescription Opioids?

While prescription opioids can be helpful for the regulation of short- or long-term pain, there are risks that coincide with their use. Because they chemically alter the brain, it is possible to develop a dependence on prescription opioids.

A simple dependence does not necessarily equate to addiction. Your body undergoes chemical changes and begins to rely on the presence of the opioid, but when you no longer need to continue taking the opioids for pain, stopping can be difficult. Addiction begins when a person seeks out opioids even when they don’t need them.

In 2014, almost 2 million people struggled with prescription pain pill use disorder, and prescription opioid use can also act as a gateway to heroin use. As your body’s need for the opioid grows, heroin is a cheaper, more easily accessible alternative, but it comes with severe dangers.

Prescription opioids are a useful tool for pain management, but they must be used with care and education. Following your doctor’s prescription is vital to preventing a spiral into opioid addiction.

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