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Using Opiates to Manage Pain

A stronger option for pain control are the opiates. They reduce moderate-to-severe pain by binding to and turning on (activating) opiate receptors in the brain and in the body. This results in pain relief as well as other effects, including:
 
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Slowed breathing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty thinking clearly.
     
Other common side effects of opiates include nausea, rash, and constipation. Constipation is quite common if opiates are taken for more than a few days. Increasing water intake and taking a laxative may be helpful if constipation becomes a problem.
 
The side effects of opiates increase as the dose and duration of therapy increase. This is why it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to find the right medication and dosage that reduces pain but doesn't produce unwanted side effects.
 
The most well-known opiate is morphine. Other opiates include:
 
When used appropriately, these medications are an effective, and even essential, part of pain control management. However, the misuse of opiates has become a serious problem. Opiates can produce tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Addiction to pain medications can be difficult to overcome and usually requires the help of a healthcare provider or addiction specialist.
 
Some people who are prescribed opiates for their pain worry that they may become addicted. However, most people who work with their healthcare provider to find the proper drug and dose to treat their pain are at a low risk of addiction. People who are at a higher risk for addiction are those who have been addicted to substances before (for example, alcoholics) and who take more pain medicine than is needed to relieve their pain.
 
Some opiate pain relievers bind to the opiate receptors in the brain and body, but only partially turn on the receptors. They can produce pain relief and may be safer and less addicting than traditional opiates. Buprenorphine and butorphanol are examples of this type of pain reliever.
 
Tramadol is a nonopiate pain reliever that is used for mild-to-moderate pain. Though it is not a controlled substance, it has the potential for misuse.
 
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