Ask your health care provider to tell you more about the medicine you are taking, and don’t take any new medicine without first checking with your doctor or nurse. Even aspirin can be a problem for some people who are taking other medicines or having cancer treatment.
Opiods, which belong to the class of drugs known as narcotics, mimic the effects of endorphins, the natural painkilling substances produced by the body. They are very similar in chemical structure, lock into the same nerve receptors, and reduce pain in the same way. The difference is that they’re not produced within the body. Instead, they are derived from the opium poppy.
There is a very small risk of addiction, which is usually hugely overstated. Narcotics are strong drugs, so you don’t want to use them for minor complaints. But for moderate to severe pain, they are one of the most effective control measures we have. One especially valuable aspect of narcotics is that, unlike other pain drugs, they don’t have a ceiling effect—a point at which increased doses no longer result in additional relief. If you and your doctor can find an opioid strategy that results in minimal or tolerable side effects, and if you do not have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, opioids can form the foundation of an intelligent plan for pain relief.
Short-acting narcotics, including codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, are a potent way to treat acute pain. If you’ve ever had a root canal or a serious athletic injury, you’ve probably received a couple of doses of codeine or hydrocodone. But these drugs make less sense for consistent use. Short-acting opioids hit your system quickly and leave your system as quickly. These drugs are also more likely to give you fierce side effects. Long-acting narcotics such as MS Contin, OxyContin, or methadone can alleviate the strong side effects. They release over a long period of time; since your body absorbs them slowly and evenly, you won’t feel such a whammy of side effects. You will also receive more consistent pain control from dose to dose.
When opioids are given to patients without a history of drug abuse, the rate of addiction is about .01 percent, according to the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. The risk of addiction is minimal, and any decent physician will monitor you closely to make sure you aren’t one of the unlucky few. Over a period of time, your body will grow accustomed to the drug’s presence, and you’ll require a higher dose for pain relief. An experienced pain doctor will accept your tolerance and adjust your dose accordingly without any fears that you’re an addict.
Pills are convenient and comfortingly familiar. But sometimes pills for opioids are not your best choice. Since pills take the long way to your bloodstream, you need extra medication to account for what’s lost in your digestive system. Here are some other options:
Do you have an acceptable level of functioning without opioids? If so, then maybe you don’t need them. If not, do opioids increase your functioning? If, after reasonable experimentation, they continue to make you too sick or sleepy to do the things you enjoy, you are probably better off with a different kind of treatment. The purpose of opioids is to reduce your suffering while increasing your functionality. But opioids aren’t magic, and they don’t always have this uplifting effect.
Chino, Allan F. & Davis, Corinne D. Validate Your Pain! Bloomington, IA: AuthorHouse, 2004.
Cochran, Robert T. Understanding Chronic Pain: A Doctor Talks to His Patients. Franklin, TN: Providence Publishing, 2004.
Dillard, James N. The Chronic Pain Solution: Your Personal Path to Pain Relief. New York, NY: Bantam Book, 2002.
This page was first published on May, 21th, 2008 and was last updated on May, 21th, 2008