Published on:
March 1st, 2010

Opiate Side EffectsOpiates, or narcotics, are a group of drugs most often used for moderate to severe pain relief. Sometimes they are used as a cough suppressant or for maintenance treatment in addiction. The powerful drugs can also cause tolerance, dependence and addiction with chronic use, and are regulated by the federal government under the Controlled Substances Act.

Some opiate side effects such as constipation, are well known. Others are more difficult to gauge because it’s often hard to study those who are on heroin or take opiates chronically for pain management. Examples of opiates include heroin, OxyContin , codeine, Fentanyl, morphine, methadone, Darvocet, Dilaudid, Norco and Lortab. When used as prescribed, opiates can still cause side effects, but the more serious ones are usually reported with misuse and overdose.

Constipation And Other Common Opiate Side Effects

Whether taking opiates at therapeutic levels or abusing them, many users report sluggish bowel movements. For many, constipation is a relatively mild and temporary condition easily treated with laxatives and changes in diet, exercise and water consumption. Opiates can interfere with normal elimination by relaxing the smooth muscle in intestines and preventing them from contracting and expelling waste. With regular use of opiates, stools can become rock hard, blocking the bowels. In severe cases, bowels can rupture, leading to sepsis or death.

Doctors recommend increasing fiber, drinking more water and exercising to prevent constipation. Depending on the drug and severity of the problem, withdrawal symptoms vary widely. It may also take new users’ bodies a few days to adjust when first starting a prescription. Side effects can include sedation, euphoria, dizziness, fatigue, depression, tremors, sleeplessness, anxiousness, flu-like symptoms, upset stomach, dry mouth, pupil constriction, itching, hallucination, delirium, sweating, muscle and bone pain, confusion, extreme irritability and muscle spasms. Severe side effects can include severe respiratory depression, confusion or stupor, coma, clammy skin, circulatory collapse and cardiac arrest.

Allergic Reaction, Opiate Misuse & Abuse

Opiates can also cause allergic reactions, some severe. Signs of this include itching, swelling, dizziness, rash and labored breathing. Side effects depend on the many factors including dose, previous exposure to opiates and the method by which users consume the drug. Recreational users may take opiates in a manner in which they are not prescribed to achieve a “high” or rush.

Most often, this can include chewing, breaking or crushing the drug and taking it orally or injecting it. Opiate-tolerant patients may take a particular drug more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed to achieve pain relief. Both of these scenarios can lead to severe side effects, dependence and addiction.

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