What opioid medications do
Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells. Opioids can be made from the poppy plant — for example, morphine (Kadian, Ms Contin, others) — or synthesized in a laboratory — for example, fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, others).
When opioid medications travel through your blood and attach to opioid receptors in your brain cells, the cells release signals that muffle your perception of pain and boost your feelings of pleasure.
Opioid Side Effects
One of the reasons why your doctor needs to manage pain medications so closely is that they can cause side effects, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
Opioids can be dangerous if you take them with alcohol, or with certain drugs such as:
- Some antidepressants and anxiety medications (particularly benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, ativan and clonazpam)
- Some antibiotics
- Sleeping pills
Make sure your doctor knows all of the other medicines you’re taking. That includes:
- Prescription drugs
- Over-the-counter drugs
- Herbal supplements
Opioid Tolerance and Addiction
After taking opioid pain medication for a while, you might find that you need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect in easing pain. This is called tolerance. It’s not the same as addiction, which involves a compulsive use of a drug.
When you use opioid medication over an extended period of time, you can have dependence. This can happen when your body becomes so used to the drug that if you abruptly stop taking it, you get withdrawal symptoms such as:
You can also get a serious addiction to opioid pain medications. People who are addicted compulsively seek out the pain medications. Their behavior usually leads to negative consequences in their personal lives or workplace. They might take someone else’s pills or buy them off the street, which is especially dangerous since those drugs are often laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl. Learn more about what can happen when opioid addiction goes untreated.
If you are having a problem with addiction, you need to see your doctor or an addiction specialist.
- Euphoria, dysphoria, agitation, seizures, hallucinations
- Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
- Muscular rigidity and contractions
- Nausea and vomiting
- Non-allergic itching
- Pupil constriction
- Sexual dysfunction
- Urinary retention
When opioid medications are dangerous ?
At lower doses, opioids may make you feel sleepy, but higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. And the feelings of pleasure that result from taking an opioid can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings, which may lead to addiction.
You can reduce your risk of dangerous side effects by following your doctor’s instructions carefully and taking your medication exactly as prescribed. Make sure your doctor knows all of the other medications and supplements you’re taking.