What are opioids?
Opioids are commonly prescribed because of
their effective analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties.
They fall into two major categories.
Opioid drugs that are derived from naturally occurring
substances, drugs like morphine and codeine
Synthetic types of opioid medications,
like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Norco.
Medications that fall within this
class-referred to as "prescription narcotics"- include
morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, oxycodone (e.g.,
OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet), and related drugs. Morphine,
for example, is often used before and after surgical
procedures to alleviate severe pain. Codeine, on the other
hand, is often prescribed for mild pain. In addition to
their pain-relieving properties, some of these drugs-codeine
and diphenoxylate (Lomotil) for example-can be used to
relieve coughs and diarrhea.
How do opioids affect the
brain and body?
Opioids act on
the brain and body by attaching to specific proteins called
opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord,
and gastrointestinal tract. When these drugs attach to
certain opioid receptors, they can block the perception of
pain. Opioids can produce drowsiness, nausea, constipation,
and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, depress
respiration. Opioid drugs also can induce euphoria by
affecting the brain regions that mediate what we perceive as
pleasure. This feeling is often intensified for those who
abuse opioids when administered by routes other than those
recommended. For example, OxyContin often is snorted or
injected to enhance its euphoric effects, while at the same
time increasing the risk for serious medical consequences,
such as opioid overdose..
What are the possible
consequences of opioid use and abuse?
directed, opioids can be used to manage pain effectively.
Many studies have shown that the properly managed,
short-term medical use of opioid analgesic drugs is safe and
rarely causes addiction-defined as the compulsive and
uncontrollable use of drugs despite adverse consequences-or
dependence, which occurs when the body adapts to the
presence of a drug, and often results in withdrawal symptoms
when that drug is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal symptoms
include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia,
diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold
turkey"), and involuntary leg movements. Long-term use of
opioids can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Taking a large single dose of an opioid could cause severe
respiratory depression that can lead to death.
Is it safe to use opioid drugs
with other medications?
Only under a
physician's supervision can opioids be used safely with
other drugs. Typically, they should not be used with other
substances that depress the CNS, such as alcohol,
antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general
anesthetics, because these combinations increase the risk of
life-threatening respiratory depression.