If you’re suffering from acute or chronic pain, your doctor might suggest you take prescription opioids to manage it.
However, there’s a reason why these drugs are strictly controlled and can’t be obtained over the counter. Not only are they potent, but they can also be highly addictive.
This comprehensive guide to prescription opioids will explain what you should know about taking opioid pain medication, including the risks that come with it and how to avoid them.
What Are Prescription Opioids?
Prescription opioids are pain-relieving medications used to treat moderate to severe pain. Ideally, they should only be used for short-term pain management.
While prescription opioids can effectively alleviate pain, it’s important to note that they can also be very addictive. For this reason, clinicians who can prescribe opioids should only do so when non-opioid pain medications cannot be used or are not strong enough to relieve pain.
Depending on how they’re produced, prescription opioids can be classified as:
- Natural opioids (opiates), which are natural substances derived from the poppy plant
- Semi-synthetic opioids, which are manufactured in labs by synthesizing opiates
- Synthetic opioids, which are fully human-made from synthetic chemicals
Whether natural, semi-synthetic, or synthetic, prescription opioids are primarily designed to activate certain areas in the brain to minimize the perception of pain.
Opioid Use Disorder
Also known as opioid addiction, opioid use disorder (OUD) is a condition characterized by the ongoing use of opioids despite their negative effects on your life.
Opioid use disorder stems from the changes in the brain that result from long-term opioid use, which means that anyone who takes prescription opioids for an extended period of time risks developing it. OUD affects 16 million people globally, including at least 2.1 million Americans.
The most common symptoms of OUD include:
- Taking opioids longer or at higher doses than instructed
- Experiencing intense opioid cravings
- Feeling unable to reduce or stop opioid use
- Spending a substantial amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from opioids
Common Types of Prescription Opioids
Here are the most commonly prescribed opioids and their most popular brand names:
- Buprenorphine (Buprenex®, Belbuca®, Butrans®)
- Hydrocodone (Vantrela® ER, Zohydro® ER, Hysingla® ER)
- Hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin®, Norco®, Lortab®)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®, Palladone®, Exalgo®)
- Methadone (Methadose®, Dolophine®)
- Morphine (Oramorph®, Morphabond®, MS Contin®)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Roxicodone®, Oxaydo®)
- Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet®, Endocet®, Roxicet®)
- Oxymorphone (Opana®)
- Tramadol (Ultram®, ConZip®, Qdolo®)
Some prescription opioids, namely methadone and buprenorphine, are also used to treat opioid use disorder.
Effects of Prescription Opioids
The key effect of prescription opioids is pain relief, which is achieved when these drugs attach to opioid receptors located in the central nervous system (CNS). By doing so, they inhibit pain signals from reaching the brain, thus reducing the sensation of pain and soothing discomfort.
In addition to that, prescription opioids can also cause various side effects, especially when taken at high doses.
Among the most common ones is euphoria, or a feeling of intense, overwhelming happiness, which opioid pain medications induce by activating the release of dopamine. Since prescription opioids not only alleviate pain but can also elevate your mood and put you in a euphoric state, some people may abuse them just to feel “high.”
Some side effects other than euphoria that prescription opioids commonly cause include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Impaired judgment
- Increased heartbeat
- Lack of coordination
- Reduced ability to focus
- Slowed breathing
If you notice any of these side effects, inform your doctor about them so they can adjust your treatment if necessary.
Risk Factors and Effects of Prescription Opioids on Pregnancy
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which causes newborns to experience withdrawal symptoms due to prenatal exposure to opioids, is one of the most considerable risks associated with prescription opioid use during pregnancy. This syndrome can occur even if you take opioids according to your doctor’s instructions.
While not all babies develop NAS, those who do often display symptoms such as:
- Excessive, shrill crying
- Difficulty sleeping
- Rapid breathing
- Blotchy skin
- Trouble gaining weight
Besides NAS, taking prescription opioids during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects, premature birth, and stillbirth. As such, it’s in your and your baby’s best interest to avoid taking opioids if you’re pregnant.
That said, if you’ve been taking opioids for a long time and especially if you suffer from opioid addiction, the last thing you want to do is quit opioids abruptly. This can be dangerous not only to you but also to your baby. For this reason, you should consult with your doctor to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.
Dangers of Prescription Opioids
Although prescription opioids can help you manage pain, it’s undeniable that they can also be dangerous, mainly due to their high potential for abuse and addiction.
If you take prescription opioids for a prolonged time, you may develop tolerance to them, meaning you’ll have to increase your opioid dosage to feel their effects.
However, since medical professionals know how addictive and dangerous opioids can be, they often avoid increasing their patients’ opioid doses. Sadly, this can cause some patients to seek illegal opioids, such as heroin, or misuse the medication by snorting or injecting it, which can cause a lethal overdose.
Not to mention, sharing needles with others can increase the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases. Opioid abuse can also lead to liver damage, respiratory depression, coma, and death.
Due to these risks, it’s important that you take opioids for medical purposes only and refrain from abusing them in any way, including mixing them with alcohol and other substances.
Opioid Tolerance vs. Opioid Dependence vs. Opioid Addiction
While some people use the terms opioid tolerance, opioid dependence, and opioid addiction interchangeably, the truth is that these three conditions are different despite being related to each other.
Simply put, opioid tolerance happens when your body gets used to your typical opioid dose and requires larger amounts of the drug to feel its effects. If you’ve been taking opioids for some time and noticed that they’re no longer relieving pain as they used to, you’ve likely developed tolerance to them.
However, it’s important to note that if you quit taking opioids, your tolerance will gradually decrease. Because of this, relapse is very dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Opioid dependence, on the other hand, is the physical dependence on opioids that makes it difficult for you to function without them. The presence of opioid withdrawal symptoms is the main sign of opioid dependence.
Hence, if you experience nausea, sleep problems, muscle aches, sweating, and other similar symptoms after stopping or reducing opioid use, you’ve likely become dependent on opioids.
Eventually, opioid dependence can lead to opioid addiction, which could eventually make you lose control over your opioid use althogether.
Besides withdrawal symptoms, opioid addiction can cause:
- Physical symptoms, such as digestive issues, weight loss, and shallow breathing
- Behavioral symptoms, e.g., forging opioid prescriptions, stealing, becoming isolated
- Psychosocial symptoms, ranging from mood fluctuations to suicidal thoughts
- Cognitive symptoms, like shortened attention span, memory gaps, etc.
Prescription Opioid Addiction
All prescription opioids are controlled substances, with most classified as Schedule II controlled drugs since they can be easily abused and lead to addiction.
Nonetheless, it’s possible to develop an addiction to opioids that are considered less addictive, such as buprenorphine (Schedule III) and tramadol (Schedule IV).
As mentioned above, anyone who takes prescription opioids is exposed to the risk of developing an opioid addiction, as opioids alter brain chemistry. Still, some individuals may be more prone to becoming addicted to prescription opioids than others.
With that in mind, the main risk factors of opioid addiction are as follows:
- Abusing prescription opioids by taking them for non-medical purposes, injecting, etc.
- Being exposed to opioids early on in life
- Going through stressful life events, such as unemployment or divorce
- Having easy access to opioids
- Taking prescription opioids for a prolonged period of time or at high doses
Prescription Opioid Overdose
An opioid overdose is a potentially life-threatening emergency that occurs when you ingest a larger amount of the drug than you should.
While many assume that an opioid overdose is more often caused by illegal opioids than prescription ones, this might not be the case.
In 2021, more than 81,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose. Only around 11% of these deaths (just shy of 9,000) involved heroin. This suggests that the majority of those lives were likely lost to prescription opioids, whether they were obtained legally or not.
Needless to say, if you were prescribed opioids for pain management, you should always take them exactly as instructed to prevent an opioid overdose.
Even one extra pill taken by accident could be enough to cause you to overdose. If not treated on time, overdosing can lead to brain damage, coma, and death.
On that note, call 911 as soon as you notice yourself or a loved one displaying any of these signs of an opioid overdose:
- Blue-tinted lips and nails
- Cold, clammy, or discolored skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Falling in and out of consciousness
- Impaired speech
- Limp body
- Pin-point pupils
ANR Treatment for Opioid Dependence
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) is a modern, safe, and effective opioid dependence treatment that can help you make a lifelong recovery from opioids.
Unlike traditional treatments, ANR addresses the underlying cause of opioid addiction by repairing the chemical imbalance resulting from opioid use.
By restoring your brain to its state before addiction, ANR enables you to return to an opioid-free life without cravings or the risk of relapse!
Here’s what makes ANR the ideal treatment for anyone struggling with addiction to opioids:
- Highest safety and quality standards. The ANR treatment is carried out by a team of highly experienced medical professionals in an ICU setting of accredited hospitals. Whether you choose to be treated in an ANR Center in Brazil, Switzerland, Georgia, or the United States, you can rest assured you’ll receive top-quality care.
- Personalized approach. Above all else, we at the ANR Clinic prioritize your well-being. Since we understand that each patient has individual needs and medical history, we tailor each treatment specifically to the patient.
- Fast results. While other treatments take weeks, months, or even years to complete and can still lead to relapse, the ANR treatment enables you to heal from opioid addiction within a matter of days!
We hope this article helped you broaden your understanding of prescription opioids.
Let’s go over the key points we covered to wrap it all up:
- Prescription opioids are potent and potentially addictive painkillers that relieve moderate to severe pain.
- You should always carefully follow your doctor’s instructions when taking prescription opioids to minimize the risk of side effects, opioid addiction, overdose, and death.
- If you develop an addiction to prescription opioids, the ANR treatment can help you recover from it by reversing the brain changes caused by opioid use.
Prescription Opioids FAQ
#1. What is considered a prescription opioid?
A prescription opioid is a medication that alleviates pain by interacting with the brain’s opioid receptors. You can only obtain it by prescription, as it is a controlled substance due to being potentially addictive.
#2. Can I take opioids if I am pregnant?
Since opioids can negatively affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health, it’s best to avoid taking these drugs if you’re pregnant. If you’re currently taking opioids, inform your doctor and see if any non-opioid treatments could help you. Don’t attempt to quit opioids abruptly, as it might lead to premature labor and other complications.
#3. Can I take someone else’s opioid prescription?
While it’s possible to pick up another person’s opioid prescription, you should never take opioid medication that was prescribed to someone else. Not only is this illegal, but it’s also unsafe and could lead to an opioid overdose, dangerous side effects, and even death.
#4. What are the most commonly prescribed opioids?
Oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and oxymorphone are among the most commonly prescribed opioids.
Dr. Waismann identified the biological roots of opioid dependency, Since then he has successfully treated more than 24,000 patients worldwide that are struggling with opioid addiction.
Throughout his career, he has lectured and educated health professionals in dozens of countries around the world to this day.