|Generic Name||Brand Name|
|hydrocodone||Lortab, Norco, Vicodin|
|morphine||Avinza, MS Contin, Oramorph SR|
|oxycodone||OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan|
Opiates are also called opioids or narcotics.
Opiates are sometimes combined with other medicines. For example,
Tylenol 3 is codeine combined with acetaminophen, and Percodan is oxycodone
combined with aspirin.
How It Works
Opiates relieve pain by altering the way your body feels pain and
the way you feel about pain.
Why It Is Used
Opiates are usually reserved for the treatment of severe short-term (acute) back or leg pain that has not responded to other medicines. Because opiates are potentially addictive, they are usually
prescribed only for 1 to 2 weeks.
Sometimes opiates are used for people who cannot take pain medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because they have conditions such as heart, kidney, or liver problems. Or opiates may be used for people who take other medicines that should not be combined with pain medicines.
How Well It Works
There is no clear evidence that opiates help either acute or chronic low back pain.1, 2 They seem to help some people, but sometimes the amount of medicine
you need for relief causes side effects that make daily functioning difficult. Further study is necessary.
Opiate pain relievers for low back pain should only be
administered by health professionals with experience in chronic pain
management. There is a significant potential for addiction and other
complications from prolonged use of this type of medicine.
Side effects from opiate pain relievers for low back pain may
- Confusion (especially in older
- Impaired breathing.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference
is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Opiates are not intended for use until all pain goes away. They are
intended to be used only for a few days to get you through the most severe
You may become physically dependent on opiates if you take them
regularly. Physical dependence is not addiction, but rather a gradual change in
your body in response to the opiates. If you stop taking opiates abruptly, you
may develop nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. The physical
dependence and withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening. You can avoid
withdrawal symptoms if you gradually stop taking the opiates over a set period
of time, as prescribed by your doctor.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
McIntosh G, Hall H (2008). Low back pain (acute), search date May 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
McIntosh G, Hall H (2008). Low back pain (chronic), search date May 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.