If you suffer from chronic, intense pain or if you had surgery or an injury that required medical attention, you may have been prescribed an opioid to help manage your pain. Opioids are a narcotic medication that reduces the pain messages that are sent to the brain. Some of the most common opioids are Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine and codeine.
The problem with opioids is that while they help manage short term suffering, there are dangerous risks that are associated with this drug. Here are ten opioid facts that you should consider before taking this medication:
- If you took an opioid for an injury or surgery and your doctor increased your dosage, you may have built up a tolerance for the medication. When you wean off of it, your tolerance decreases. If you happen to get a new injury and decide to take a pill from your old prescription, you could run the risk of overdosing.
- And speaking of drug tolerance, the higher the opioid dosage, the greater your chances for side effects which can include constipation, drowsiness, nausea or vomiting. You also run the risk of overdosing, which leads to the dangerous possibilities of slowed breathing, lowered heartbeat, dizziness, seizures or even death.
- Opioids relax the central nervous system and can cause you to feel relaxed or fuzzy headed. When you add alcohol to the mix, these symptoms can get worse and may even be fatal.
- Long term use has shown that many patients have become addicted to this medication. Anxiety, depression, past substance abuse, smoking and other conditions can increase your chances of becoming addicted.
- Over 16,600 people die from opioid use each year in the U.S. That’s about 45 people each day.
- Prescriptions for opioids have climbed 300% in the last ten years.
- If a pregnant woman takes an opioid, she increases the risks of birth defects to the fetus which can include malformations of the baby’s brain, heart, spine and abdominal wall.
- Hormones levels such as testosterone in men and estrogen in women tend to be lower in patients taking opioids. In men, this can cause a decreased sex drive or difficulty getting an erection. In women, menstrual cycles may cease during long-term use.
- Opioids sedate the body and lessens the brain’s ability to control breathing. High doses may cause sleep apnea which is when you stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep. Lowered breathing rates can also cause your brain not to get the oxygen it needs to function properly (this is called hypoxia). This can lead to a coma or possibly permanent brain damage. In the most extreme cases, increased doses of opioids can even can cause the body to stop breathing altogether resulting in death.
- While opioids are generally taken to stop pain, long term use can have the opposite effect. This is called opioid-induced hyperalgesia and means that the patient becomes more sensitive to pain. Taking more opioids will only increase sensitivity and increase your chances for overdose and side effects.