Opioid Pain Relievers for Chronic Pain


What are opioids?

An opioid, or narcotic, is a medication prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain. They block pain signals by attaching to opioid receptors in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. As pain messages are modified, less pain is experienced. Opioids have been a standard of care in pain management for decades. They can be made synthetically or derived from the opium poppy plant.

How do opioids work?

Opioids interrupt pain signals that are sent to the brain. This suppresses the perception of pain and calms the nervous system’s response to it. Opioids are stronger than over-the-counter pain medications and require a prescription from a health care professional. Any opioid medication should be used directly as prescribed. A health care professional may prescribe around-the-clock doses for severe pain relief. Additionally, they may be prescribed to be taken as needed in the event of breakthrough pain. The lowest effective dose should be prescribed.

Opioids and chronic pain

Opioids may be prescribed when other treatment options have failed. They can provide analgesia effects to ease pain associated with various chronic pain conditions. Opioids can be part of an effective pain management plan. Opioids work best when combined with other medications or non medication treatments.

Regular follow-up appointments will help determine the proper dosage for pain relief. It is important to weigh the risks and benefits of all treatment options. The decision to prescribe opioids for chronic pain should be made on an individual basis.


Opioids are most effective when taken in moderate doses, as taking too many may cause additional side effects. Do not take more than prescribed without talking to a health care professional. Seek immediate medical care if certain side effects occur, which include the following:

  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips, face, mouth or tongue
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Confusion, nervousness or restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
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