Opioids are a class of medication derived from the opium plant. Their primary function in medicine today is for pain relief and to sedate patients. These medications have a history that spans thousands of years. Often, opioids have a negative reputation because their propensity to be addictive; however, used responsibly they can be effective for individuals who are suffering from chronic pain. But, what are opioids exactly?
What are opioids?
As a pain reliever, opioids reduce the perception of pain in the body which leads to less intensity.
Common natural opioids include:
There are also several semi-synthetic and fully synthetic opioids that doctors use to treat pain. These include:
What are risk factors for opioids?
The biggest concern in the use of opioids to treat any condition is the risk of dependency.
Classified separately and as a condition of addiction, dependency is determined when an individual has a strong desire to take the drug, engages in drug seeking behavior, and has difficulty regulating the drug, such as how much to take or how often. These behaviors can lead to addiction if unaddressed. Dependence on opioids should not be considered a personal flaw or weakness and should be handled with compassion, caution, and care.
In spite of the risks of dependence, opioids can be extremely effective in treating pain for the right individual. However, medical professionals have been under fire to ensure that opioids are used safely and correctly for patients. A 2009 article from the National Institutes of Health says:
“The relatively recent recognition that guidelines for the opioid treatment of chronic pain must incorporate both the principles of prescribing as well as approaches to risk assessment and management may represent an important turning point for this approach to pain management. Acknowledging that prescription drug abuse has increased during the past decade, a period during which the use of opioid therapy by primary care physicians and pain specialists has accelerated, pain specialists and addiction medicine specialists now must collaborate to refine guidelines, help physicians identify the subpopulations that can be managed by primary care providers, and discover safer strategies that may yield treatment opportunities to larger numbers of patients.”
If you have questions about opioid treatment and whether or not it would be safe or effective for you, contact your pain specialist to learn more.