Opioid pain medications can make life a lot easier for people suffering from chronic pain or recovering from surgery. However, every medication has some risks and benefits and opioids are not any different. The powerful effects and strong composition of opioids call for special care to avoid potential issues, including accidental overdose, opioid dependence, breathing problems and need for stronger doses. While all meds should be managed using a pill reminder app, this is particularly important with opioids. Also, these medications have a stronger effect on older adults. Therefore, such individuals should use opioids with extra care.
But before discussing potential risks and benefits of opioids, let’s get to know about them a little more.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are prescription drugs that are either derived from plants or manufactured in labs. Opioids are great for relieving pain. In fact, they are frequently used for treating different pain types such as post-surgical pain and severe pain caused by a disease like cancer.
How Many Types Are There of Opioids?
Depending on the type of pain, your doctor may recommend a certain opioid type. There are many opioid types for various kinds of pain. For example, chronic pain opioids are different from acute pain opioids.
Generally, all opioids can be classified into two types: short-acting and long-acting.
The effect of short-acting medications typically lasts for a few hours. That means you will need to take multiple doses a day. Long-acting opioids, on the other hand, have an effect that can control pain for the whole day, meaning that you will only need to take one dose a day.
Also, opioids may differ in the way they are given. Some are given intravenously, some orally, some as a rectal suppository, and some in the form of patches which are applied to your skin.
Some opioids can also be taken in more than one way.
A class of opioids, known as agonist can also mix with other medications to relieve pain and reduce the chances of developing an addiction. Buprenorphine and butorphanol are two of the common agonists/antagonists.
What Are Common Opioid Side Effects and Complications?
Many people suffering from chronic pain may take the same opioid for years without developing drug tolerance or dependence on the drug. However, many of these individuals may wrongly be labeled as “addicts,” even if they take opioids only for medical reasons which can be very frustrating for them at times.
In addition to tolerance and addiction opioids can have a number of other side effects including:
- Urinary retention
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Sexual dysfunction
Moreover, opioids tend to have a stronger effect on older adults than children, so older patients must be monitored more carefully when taking opioids using pill tracker app. Many times, the specialists start from low opioid dose and then gradually increase it until an effective level is reached.
Furthermore, certain non-opioids may form harmful combinations with opioids, so be careful and inform the doctor if you also take other medications regularly as this will help you avoid many health complications.
Lastly, drowsiness and confusion are two of the common side effects that may occur when on opioids. Therefore, it is recommended not to drive or work on heavy machinery while under opioids’ effect.
Opioid overdoses are extremely dangerous and can cause fatal breathing problems.
Following these precautions can help you avoid an overdose:
- Avoid taking medications that cause sleepiness, such as anti-anxiety meds, another opioid, or a muscle relaxer.
- Avoid alcohol.
- In case you have addiction problems, immediately inform your doctor.
- Use the dropper, scoop or a marked cup to be certain of the correct dose. Do not use spoons used for food as they vary in size.
- Swallow whole tablets and capsules. Do not break crush or cut them as it will allow you to ingest an amount of medication that might not be safe for your health.
- If a medication is not working, tell the doctor.
- Never increase dosage without your doctor’s approval.
- Ask the doctor how your medication will interact with food. Some foods may increase the amount of medication in the body.
In case of overdose, you may experience blue lips or a weak pulse/heartbeat. As soon as these signs appear seek medical assistance to prevent it from becoming life-threatening.
Addiction & Dependence
Remember that opioids are best for short-term because using them long term often results in dependence on medication.
Also remember that dependence and addiction are two completely different things. Therefore, they should not be confused with each other. Dependence is just a physiological response. While addiction, on the other hand, is more about craving for the “high” it provides, and a desire to continuously take it without considering side effects.
After long term use, opioids should be dropped gradually and with doctor’s consultation as a sudden drop may result in withdrawal symptoms.
The most common withdrawal symptoms include:
But these symptoms are more likely to appear in those who have been taking opioids at high doses.
With time, your body will build tolerance to the drug and require a higher dose to heal the pain. If a patient uses an opioid using medication reminder app long enough, they may develop tolerance so strong that even high doses won’t be effective.
Moreover, long-term opioid use has certain side effects. And the individuals who have developed drug tolerance may not get relief from pain if a new type of pain occurs, such as from an injury or surgery that would need to be treated with opioids.