Published on:
April 15th, 2011

The use of opioids over a long period of time can cause significant damage to the gastrointestinal tract that may require treatment. These issues stem from a long-term slowdown of gastrointestinal function, leading to constipation, nausea, vomiting, spasms, formation of hard and dry stool and loss of appetite. This creates a problem for people who have moderate to serious pain that is treated with opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. This also goes for those people who are on long-term opioid maintenance therapy with methadone or Suboxone, medications used to treat opioid addiction.

The slowing of gastrointestinal function creates constipation and may cause people to strain while having a bowel movement. This means that many chronic opioid users develop hemorrhoids, which can be painful and itchy. Hemorrhoids can also cause bleeding. Another risk of taking these medications long term is diverticulitis, an infection that develops in the colon where stool becomes stagnant. Diverticulitis can also create discomfort in the form of abdominal pain, fever and bloating. The problem can progress, culminating in colon rupture.

Gastrointestinal Damage Can Also Affect the Mouth and Eyes

Another effect of long-term opioid use is the possibility it will cause a drying out of the whole gastrointestinal tract. This includes the mouth and can cause xerostomia. This is a medical term used to refer to the lack of saliva production that can cause further problems such as bad breath, tooth decay, difficult chewing and problems with speaking and swallowing. Saliva also helps a person’s ability to taste food and beverages, so a lack of saliva may affect taste. This condition may also affect digestion, as enzymes in saliva aid in that process.

Long-term use of opioids can also affect a person’s vision. This can cause dry eyes and miosis. This condition decreases a person’s visual acuity in dim lighting. Sleep patterns can also be destroyed by long-term use of opioids. This can lead to stress and bruxism, which is clenching of the teeth. This in turn can affect the gums and teeth. Clenching the teeth can also put added pressure on muscles, tissues and structures around the jaw. This can cause problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Suffering and Discomfort May Affect a Person’s Quality of Life

Gastrointestinal issues stemming from chronic opioid use can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. They may begin to feel like they can’t do things they once enjoyed. The constipation in particular can cause patients to begin taking laxatives regularly. Others may decide to scale back or stop taking their prescription opioids altogether, despite the risk that the pain will return.

We strongly encourage individuals taking prescription opioids to recognize the repercussions and potential dangers of misusing these drugs.  If you or your loved ones need treatment or detoxification from opioids, we urge you to consult your doctor or contact us for further assistance.  The Waismann Method, a pioneering medical opiate detoxification procedure, provides an alternative option for treatment to prescription painkiller dependency. Performed in a hospital intensive care unit, the Waismann Method utilizes careful administration of medications to reverse the physiological dependence on opiates while the symptoms of withdrawal are addressed. During the procedure, the patient experiences minimal conscious withdrawal. Following treatment, patients are opiate-free and stay at the Domus Retreat where they are supervised by a team of professionals as part of the recovery and transition process.

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