Some health conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, can cause such a severe pain that only a combination of drugs is able to relieve. But since medications, including painkillers, usually have certain negative impact on the patients’ health, and since simultaneous intake of several drugs is even more hazardous, it is reasonable to find out more about the medications you use and their action.
When it comes to chronic pain, prescriptions commonly contain opioid (narcotic) drugs. They work as mimickers of opioid peptides – pain-relieving chemicals produced by human body in a natural way. Opioids activate the pain-relief system by binding to specific brain and spinal cord receptors.
Commonly Prescribed Opioid Drugs
These opioids are the most popular due to their inexpensiveness and long history of use:
It should be noted that the patients are often prescribed combination drugs, which include additional active components like acetaminophen:
- Vicodin (acetaminophen added to hydrocodone)
- Ultracet (acetaminophen added to tramadol)
- Percocet (acetaminophen added to oxycodone)
Risks and Side Effects of Opiates
Opioid drugs are associated with multiple medical and non-medical risks. One of them is overdose. Some patients take an extra dose when the pain-relieving effect of the first dose seems insufficient. Other patients do so because of the opiate-induced cognitive dysfunction makes them hard to remember the time of the previous intake – they just forget that they have already taken the medication. It is inadmissible to exceed the dose, because it may lead even to fatal outcome, so, be very careful.
One more reason of overdose is tolerance to opiates which develops in people using certain drugs for a long time. As a result, the medication partially loses its effectiveness for them, and a doctor have to prescribe the gradual dosage increase. It is important not to exceed the amount approved by the doctor, due to the fact that not feeling enough relief from the pain does not mean that your body is able to handle a higher medication dose.
It is useful to know the opioid overdose symptoms in order to be able to call for medical help if necessary:
- fainting or dizziness
- breathing difficulties
- clammy/cold skin
- slow heart rate
- nausea, vomiting
Another risk related to intake of opioid drugs is addiction. It is more likely to develop in patients who already have a history of drug addiction and abuse.
There is also a possibility that pain may heighten after some time of opioids use. According to researches, these drugs may be the cause of opioid-induced hyperalgesia – an increased sensitivity of some pain types.
Even if the patient takes the opioid medication as directed, he/she may experience side effects similar to that of overdose:
- dry mouth
- unstable blood pressure and dizziness
- difficulty urinating
Different opioids can cause different adverse effects, so read the medication instruction sheet.
Anticipating Possible Negative Interactions
Taking certain drugs with opiates can lead to negative consequences, including lethal, so tell your doctor/pharmacist about everything you are already taking, be it prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, supplements or vitamins.
Combining opioids with something from this list can be dangerous:
- other painkillers
- muscle relaxants
- sleep medications
- antidepressants, antianxiety medicine and similar drugs
- antihistamines (antiallergic)
It is also important to abstain from alcohol during the treatment with opioids.
It will be useful to print the list of the medications you are taking so that you can easily monitor them, and this will also make it easier for emergency personnel to act properly in case you need help.
Individual Approach in Using Opiates
Different patients have different needs and their reactions to certain medications can also vary. For some people opioids are an optimal choice, for others some alternative drugs are safer and better. Your doctor can decide what medication is right for you based on your overall health, diagnoses, possible interactions with other drugs, and so on.
In case if opiates fail to relief the pain, consult with the doctor and discuss possible replacements. If any side effects occur to you, inform the doctor as well. It is necessary to constantly monitor your health condition during the treatment to make it as effective and safe as possible.