Published on:
March 9th, 2011

Opioid pain medications (narcotics) help millions of people find relief from chronic pain but have some potential drawbacks. Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia is one. Evidence suggests that opioid therapy can cause this condition, which is heightened sensitivity to pain.  This condition occurs when an increased use of opioids (such as morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone) results in a reduced tolerance for pain and an increased sensitivity to discomfort. Chronic pain sufferers may not understand that this is happening and may increase their dosage. A tolerance to the medication can develop quickly and this can lead to physical and/or psychological dependence. Opioid dependency is serious and may need to be treated professionally.

Opiates are meant to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia causes a reduction in a patient’s pain threshold, which is considered a phenomenon that isn’t clearly understood. Opioid-induced Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia is a condition that doctors should consider when patients have increasing pain and don’t respond to increasing doses of opioid medications. Continuing to increase the dosages of opioids is dangerous and can result in overdose or death.

Patients with suspected Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia should be referred to a pain specialist who can help them to manage the increasing pain. Treatments may include switching medications or doses, or changing from one opioid to another that has a smaller risk of neurotoxic effects. Certain therapies can help patients taper or discontinue use of opioids such as regional or local anesthesia or an epidural. Some doctors may add a non-opioid medication to help control pain, such as acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

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