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Pain Management Health Center

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Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications

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Working With Your Doctor continued...

Never change or stop taking any opioid medicine without first checking with your doctor. If a pain medication isn't working as well as it should, your doctor may switch you to a different dose -- or try another drug.

When you're ready to stop taking opioids, your doctor may help wean you off them slowly, if you have taken them for an extended period of time, to give your body time to adjust. Otherwise, you may have withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid Side Effects

One of the reasons why your doctor needs to manage pain medications so closely is that they can potentially cause side effects, such as:

The drugs methylnaltrexone (Relistor) and naloxegol (Movantik) are approved to treat constipation due to opioid use in those with chronic pain not caused by cancer.

Opioids can be dangerous if you take them with alcohol, or with certain drugs such as:

Make sure your doctor knows all of the other medicines you're taking. That includes:

  • prescription drugs
  • over-the-counter drugs
  • herbal supplements

Opioid Tolerance and Addiction

After taking opioid pain medication for a while, you might find that you need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect in reducing pain. This is called tolerance. It's not the same as addiction, which involves a compulsive use of a drug.

When you use opioid medication over an extended period of time, you can develop dependence. This can occur when your body becomes so used to the drug that if you abruptly stop taking it, you get withdrawal symptoms such as:

You can also develop an addiction to opioid pain medications. People who are addicted to opioids compulsively seek out the pain medications. They typically have behaviors that lead to negative consequences in their personal lives or workplace.

If you are having a problem with addiction, you might need to see an addiction specialist.

Should You Take Opioid Pain Medications?

Opioids can make a dramatic difference to people with moderate to severe pain. These drugs can be an effective therapy -- as long as you use them safely and follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on April 23, 2015
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