Using Opioid Pain Medication


An opioid, or narcotic, is a medication prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain by weakening pain signals from nerves to the brain. 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 opioids work

Opioids are prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain that does not respond well to other treatment options. 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.

Types of opioids

There are various types of opioids, which include the following:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Buprenorphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen
  • Oliceridine
  • Oxycodone/acetaminophen
  • Oxycodone/naloxone

Proper use

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.

Opioid medication should not be changed to stopped without consulting with a health care professional. If pain is severe while taking opioids, consult a medical professional. Gradually wean off this medication under a physician's care to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Side effects

Opioid side effects can be dangerous. This is especially true if combining opioids with alcohol or other medications. Side effects include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Impaired judgment
  • Itching
  • Lower blood pressure or heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or trouble concentrating
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Respiratory issues
  • Rigid muscles
  • Tolerance buildup of pain medicine
  • Urinary retention
  • Withdrawal
  • Agitation
  • Euphoria or hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction


Opioids have the potential to be abused. Addiction refers to a problematic or unhealthy use of a substance. Tapering off opioids should be individualized and only attempted under close medical care. After using opioids for a while, a tolerance can build up. This can cause the need for additional medication or a higher dosage. Withdrawal symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, anxiety, and irritability.

Did you find this helpful?
You may also like