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Opioids and Chronic Pain Management

What are Opioids? 

Opioids are a powerful class of drugs that can be very effective at controlling severe, acute pain. They work by mimicking the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals and blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. 

Should Opioids be used to Manage my Chronic Pain? 

Opioids are often not recommended as a long-term treatment for chronic pain conditions. This is because prolonged, daily use of opioids can cause the body to become physically dependent on the drugs. Over time, higher and higher doses are required to achieve the same pain-relieving effects. 

What are the risks of long-term use of Opioids to manage my pain? 

Chronic Opioid Therapy comes with many negative side effects including: 

  • – Feeling tired, drowsy or sedated 
  • – Dizziness 
  • – Nausea and vomiting 
  • – Constipation 
  • – Withdrawal symptoms when opioids are discontinued or decreased. 
  • – Requiring increased doses to experience the same effect of pain relief. 
  • – Respiratory depression, which is dangerous for healthy people, not just for people with COPD, asthma or other lung conditions 

Less common, but serious side effects of long-term opioid use includes: 

  • – Increased sensitivity to feeling pain and extreme response to pain (hyperalgesia) 
  • – Delayed gastric emptying (contents of your stomach move to your small intestine more slowly). 
  • – Muscle rigidity. 
  • – Immune system and hormonal dysfunction. 
  • – Quick, involuntary muscle jerks (myoclonus). 
  • – Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) 
  • – Itchy skin (pruritus). 
  • – Dry mouth (xerostomia). 

Are Opioids Addictive? 

Yes, opioids carry a significant risk of addiction and dependence, especially with long-term use. When someone becomes physically dependent on opioids, they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like restlessness, muscle aches, diarrhea, and nausea if they stop taking the medication. This can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior and addiction. 

Can Opioids be used Safely? 

Opioids can be used safely, but only when taken exactly as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Opioids are used most effectively for:  

  • – Some types of acute pain (sudden and short-term). 
  • – Cancer-related pain. 
  • – Post-surgical pain. 
  • – Vascular pain, such as acute sickle-cell crisis.  

If you are prescribed opioids, it’s critical to follow the instructions regarding dosage, frequency, and duration of use. Opioids are not a good long-term solution for managing chronic pain for most patients. Your doctor can recommend alternative pain management strategies that carry lower risks of dependence and addiction.

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