Prescription painkillers, or opiates, are analgesic medications available only by prescription from a doctor, dentist, veterinarian or other licensed medical personnel. Natural opiates are contained in the resin of the opium poppy plant and include morphine and codeine. Semi-synthetic opiates are created from natural opioids and include buprenorphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone. Fully synthetic opioids include Fentanyl, Tramadol, Norco, Lortab, Lorcet, Dilaudid and methadone.
Prescription Painkiller Uses
Prescription pain relievers are strong narcotics used to treat moderate to severe pain. Different painkillers are indicated for different uses and can range from post-surgery pain to trauma and injuries. Opioids have been around for ages and prized for their important role in treating long-term, chronic pain in those who are terminally ill with conditions
such as cancer. In recent years, prescriptions for opiate painkillers have increased, especially for non-malignant, chronic pain. Some opiates are designed to treat “break through” pain, or pain that persists despite taking another type of pain reliever. An opiate is a substance that activates the opioid receptors, located in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract.
In the U.S., opiates are approved for the use as a pain reliever, cough suppressant and an anti-diarrhea medication. Opiate medications such as Suboxone and buprenorphine are used in replacement therapy to help wean users from addiction to other opiates.
Side Effects of Painkillers
Side effects from painkillers 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. One of the most common complaints among users is constipation.
Abuse, Tolerance, Addiction and Withdrawal
Prescription painkillers can cause sedation and euphoria and are commonly abused. Chronic use can lead to tolerance, characterized by a patient’s need to consume more and more of the drug to achieve the same pain relief. While many people with addictions to prescription painkillers legally obtain the pills for a medical problem, others buy them illegally on
the black market. For those who are dependent on opiates, withdrawing from them can be extremely difficult and intense. Many are unable to kick the addiction without medical intervention. Symptoms of withdrawal can include nausea, vomiting, chills, insomnia, muscle and bone pain, tremors, slowed breathing and headaches.
Treatment for Painkiller Addiction
Opiate addiction is caused by persistent use of opiates and is thought to be a disorder of the central nervous system. Prescription painkiller addiction is hard to break free of without treatment. Available options include detox, rehabilitation, 12-step programs, therapy and rapid drug detox. Some are offered on an in-patient basis, while others are out-patient. Many users who develop dependence or addiction need medical help to detox safely.