Tramadol is a type of opioid medication used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. This prescription medication works in a similar way as morphine and affects certain brain chemicals. Although not classified as a narcotic or a controlled substance by the DEA, tramadol does have significant potential for both psychological and physical dependence and abuse.
Tramadol is classified as a centrally acting opioid analgesic. This means that it works in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), acts much like morphine in the body, and relieves pain. Much like morphine, tramadol binds to certain opioid receptors in the body known as μ ("mu") receptors.
Tramadol also affects certain brain chemicals (specifically, norepinephrine and serotonin), and this may contribute to its pain-relieving properties, as well as to its side effects (see Tramadol Side Effects) and drug interactions (see Tramadol Drug Interactions).
Tramadol has a significant potential for both psychological and physical dependence and abuse, similar to morphine. Initially, this drug was marketed as a pain medication with little potential for abuse. However, healthcare providers quickly recognized that many of their patients had become addicted to tramadol. Now, the prescribing information for this medication contains several different warnings about the potential for abuse.
Because tramadol can be a desirable drug of abuse, people often try to buy it through illegal means, such as from foreign countries or online sources that do not require a prescription.
For more information, visit the following eMedTV articles:
U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. Drugs and chemicals of concern: tramadol (9/2008). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/tramadol.htm. Accessed December 16, 2008.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedules of controlled substances: placement of tramadol into Schedule IV (July 2, 2014). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2014/fr0702.htm. Accessed September 21, 2014.
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