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Opioids For Chronic Pain: 9 Benefits And Risks

As today’s medicine tries to find better and more effective ways to reduce pain after medical procedures or chronic pain in general, the use of opioids has been introduced for many patients. Findings have concluded that it can relieve pain effectively, making it a popular medication among many people looking for instant relief. However, the risks that opioid use has on the human body and conditions that it might work against are also prevalent, and these risks causing more harm than good are also significant.

If you’re considering using opioids for a health condition, here is a complete guide and the benefits and risks of using opioids.

What Exactly Are Opioids?

Exactly Are Opioids

Opioids are substances or medications that doctors may prescribe to treat persistent or chronic pain patients. They are commonly used for headaches, backaches, post-surgery pain, or severe pain attributed to cancer. They are also prescribed for children or adults who got hurt when doing physical activities, were injured in falls or are involved in accidents. Opioids bind to opioid receptors found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gut, and other parts of the body. They work by preventing pain signals from being sent to the brain by the body through the spinal cord. They are effective for pain relief, but they can also pose several risks, and the danger of addiction is always present, especially for prolonged use.

Opioids prescribed include codeine, fentanyl (If you know someone who has an addiction to this certain medication, you may visit, hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and morphine. The various types are defined by the strength of the substance needed to be administered, the patient, situation, type, and level of someone’s pain. They can be taken in pills, tablets, or lollipops. Other types are administered directly into the vein via injection or IV, or a patch with a suppository can be placed on the patient’s skin.

Use of Opioid For Pain Relief

In medicine, the primary purpose of opioids is pain relief. Codeine, a type of opioid, is combined with one or more other drugs in low doses and is usually available without the need for a subscription to treat mild pain. Different types of opioids are for relieving pain ranging from moderate to severe, depending on the doses.

One of the most typical uses for opioids is acute pain that a person may suffer after surgery. They are usually prescribed as an instant relief for moderate or severe acute pain due to their rapid effectiveness and efficacy. However, some reports discourage the prolonged use of opioid analgesics for post-surgery pain due to its possible risks. Other conditions such as cancer or degenerative diseases that can cause severe and chronic pain can also be comforted with the use of opioids to disabling annoyance in a specific time frame.

Opioids can also be used for non-cancer conditions such as headaches, back pain, and fibromyalgia. However, caution should be in place for non-cancer pain, and the risk should be reassessed every three months. Usually, less risky pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen are initially recommended before resorting to opioid use for chronic pain. However, some types of chronic pain due to fibromyalgia or migraine are preferred to be treated with drugs other than opioids.

History Of Opioid Use In Medicine

The opioid is one of the world’s oldest drugs. The earliest known use of this from archaeological and historical evidence can be traced back to 5,700–5,500 BC, during the Neolithic Period. It has been widely used among different cultures around the globe, with Sumerians mentioning the use of “Hu Gil” or “plant of joy,” referring to opioids. Egyptians also used opium mixed with Ebers Papyrus for medicinal purposes. Evidence shows that Greeks also used opium for sleep-inducing purposes and in the Roman Army. Islamic Golden Age also has published articles on the use, benefits, and dangers of opium use. India and China also used opium in their early medicinal practices, and opium poppies are staples in spring crops. Medicinal opium was introduced in Western Europe during the German Renaissance, controlling the benefits and medicinal uses.

Benefits Of Using Opioids

There are studies and reports that opioids can provide numerous benefits for chronic pain, making them a preferred prescription for many cases that require pain alleviation.

These are the reasons people who use opioids stand for benefits. Some of these benefits include:

  • Rapid And Effective Treatment For Post-Surgery Pain Or After Medical Procedures

As opioids are generally used and prescribed by doctors for pain relief, they are effective in post-surgery pain treatment. Experiencing pain after surgery, incredibly invasive and extensive surgery, is very common and can cause a lot of trouble for a person during recovery. 80% of patients are reported to feel post-operative pain, with 88% reporting moderate, severe, or extreme pain levels. A person may feel muscle pain, throat pain, movement pain in the joints, and general pain after surgery. Doctors can recommend milder forms of medicine to control pain, but opioids are among the most effective ones the patient can take to initiate pain blocking. They work on a person’s pain receptors and prevent the brain from receiving pain signals, thus alleviating any post-surgery pain that the person may feel.

  • Opioids Can Be Used To Treat Chronic Pain Caused By Cancer

Aside from post-operative pain, chronic pain caused by cancer can also be treated with opioids. It’s considered chronic when pain lasts for more than three months. Cancer can cause nerve changes due to cancer pressing on nerve cells or chemicals produced by a tumor. Nerve changes can also occur due to cancer treatment, and the chronic pain can continue until post-surgery or post-treatment and can range from mild to severe levels. The substance acts like natural substances of endorphins produced in the body to control pain. The prescription of opioid type and amount of substance is still regulated by doctors and not usually available over the counter in many places.

  • Can Reduce Pain In Palliative Or End-Of-Life Care

Severe pain is reported in patients who are usually at the end of life. It is commonly due to underlying illnesses, failure of organs, or side effects of treatments. Opioids are prescribed for some patients to alleviate pain and improve their quality of life by comforting their physical amount of suffering. The high prevalence of pain and the emphasis on pain management have been linked to significant increases in the usage of opioids to treat these symptoms.

Risks Of Using Opioids

Like with other substances, the use of opioids is still not every day in today’s medicinal practice due to the many risks they can pose to the human body, depending on the conditions. At the same time, government and medical regulations are imposed on opioids, limiting their use only in legal places and situations that require the substance.

It’s not advised as a regular over-the-counter medication for any possible pain, and some reasons are listed below.

  • Physical Side Effects When Taking Opioids

Cases of nausea and vomiting are common for people who have only started taking opioids for pain relief. An over-the-counter remedy or prescription medicine can be provided for sickness. Another side effect of taking opioids can be constipation, and the body does not develop a tolerance for this in the long run. Depending on your body’s reaction to the substance, these effects may occur instantly or after a few days.

  • Can Induce Sleep Problems

It’s strongly advised that people do not operate types of machinery or drive and be careful after opioid intake as it can make someone tired. Opioids slow down a person’s breathing, making you sleepy, posing two problems – sleep pattern disorders or reliance as a sleeping aid. Studies have proven that opioid use can cause insomnia, parasomnia, daytime sleepiness, and other sleep-related disorders. High doses of this substance can also affect a person’s regular breathing pattern during sleeping. On the other hand, the medicinal community highly advises the use of opioids as a sleeping aid, as they do not give a person the quality sleep they need. Intaking the substance lowers the rate of rapid eye movement and slow-wave sleep, which are necessary for restful, recharging sleep; therefore, it should be used with caution and regulation.

  • Higher Risks If You Have An Existing Lung Problem

Opioids used for pain relief for patients with pre-existing lung conditions are highly not recommended, as they can depress the breathing of a person. The substance can cause slow, shallow breathing, exacerbating asthma symptoms. Opioid misuse can also suppress someone’s breathing and block the air from entering the lungs, causing suffocation or low oxygen levels in the body. One of the most common deaths due to complications of opioid misuse for pain relief is people using the substance even with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

  • Opioid Use Can Cause More Complications For Older People

The side effects and the risks of opioid use for pain relief can be a more significant risk for older people. The drowsiness side effect can further confuse them and cause mental cloudiness. As opioids can cause disordered breathing, this can be a more significant problem for older people with existing respiratory conditions. Another risk is when opioid is combined with acetaminophen, as high levels can increase the possibility of liver disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, heart failure, and complications when taken simultaneously with other drugs. Before taking opioids for pain relief, consult your doctor first, especially if you are older.

  • Using The Substance May Cause Wounds To Take Longer Healing Time

A Wound Repair and Regeneration case study found that those who did not receive any form of opioid during healing tend to heal faster than those who did. It is then concluded that even though opioids may take the pain away from an injury or a wound, they may cause a longer healing time than without. They can reduce immune activation and negatively impact tissue regeneration in the healing wound.

  • The Severe Risk Of Overdose

An overdose can happen for various reasons among virtually any substance, but opioid overdose risk is considered highly possible and significant. Some people can get addicted to the pain relief that opioids can bring temporarily, therefore heavily relying on the substance and causing subsequent overdose due to taking more than the body can only get.

Other common reasons for opioid overdose are:

  • Use disorders;
  • Taking a significant amount by injection;
  • Abrupt resumption of opioid use after a long period of abstinence;
  • Misuse of the amount and type of substance without proper prescription from a physician;

As opioid overdose cases are life-threatening, it is crucial to recognize the signs that someone is having an overdose. Some symptoms include having ashen faces or skin that feels clammy when touched, loss of control and limping off the whole body, changes in fingernail colors to blue or purple, vomiting or gurgling, and cannot be awakened when called into consciousness, and the heartbeat and breathing slow. In the first signs of opioid overdose, it is crucial to immediately call a doctor or a first aid responder to the scene.

Government Regulations And Prescription Opioid Use

The US Food and Drug Administration or FDA has acknowledged that opioids have pain-reducing properties used for medicating. However, they’re vigorously fighting against the use of opioid because ‘a lot of Americans have indeed been impacted by serious harms associated with these medications and currently recognizes an opioid crisis in the country. The government acknowledges opioids and their forms not as pain reliefs but as harmful drugs, they try to control. The American Pain Society, an organization that influences today’s medicine in the profession of pain, was shut down by the government in 2019 amid scandals in opioid use ever since the FDA has placed regulations against its usage.

With this, each state has passed prescription opioid control laws regulating the prescribing state and criterion for patients that require the substance as pain medication.


Both benefits and risks can occur when using opioids as pain medication. It is effective for patients suffering chronic pain and wanting instant relief, but it also has dangerous threats that can negatively affect the body and even cause severe damage.

A legitimate prescription from a doctor with the proper type and dose of opioid is still the most important part for patients wanting this method, and considering alternatives is a good option for pain relief if possible.

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