Opiates are drugs that have been naturally derived from the opium plant. Even though the term is often used interchangeably with opioids, there is a significant difference in how these terms are used in the scientific field. Opioids refer to drugs that are semi-synthetic. Further processing is done on opioids to improve its performance and minimize some of the side effects. However, sometimes we have to ask, what are opiates used for?

Both Opioids and opiates are most commonly used as pain medication. These drugs are powerful because they act on the central nervous system to block specific receptors and increase the threshold of pain.

They are very effective in dealing with different types of pain ranging from moderate, moderately severe to severe pain. Their applications range from managing postoperative pain, to helping people with long-term acute pain caused by fractures or by cancer. However, they are prone to abuse and most opiates are classified as schedule II drugs. It is important to look at some of the common opiates/opioids their applications and side effects.

Types of Opiates

  • Codeine: In the medical field Codeine is used to treat moderate and mild pain. Its also known by its street name “cough syrup” because it is commonly used to suppress coughs. It is available in tablet form and is often taken orally. It is considered to be dangerous because it is less regulated compared to other opiates and can, therefore, result in tolerance and addiction.

  • Oxycodone: A semi-synthetic drug used to treat moderate to moderately severe or acute pain. In the treatment of cancer pain, it has been found to be as effective as morphine but with considerably less severe side effects. However, it has many side effects like other opiates and can additionally cause addiction.

  • Hydrocodone: Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic drug derived from Codeine. It is used to manage moderate to severe pain. It is additionally occasionally used as a cough suppressant just like Codeine.

  • Morphine: This is a common opiate that has been around since the early 19th century. It has powerful analgesic effects, but it is also prone to abuse and addiction. Even though it has for long been considered to be effective in treating MI (Myocardial Infarction), tightness and squeezing pain in the chest, a Study published in the American Heart Journal found that its side effects could make it worse for people with MI.

  • Fentanyl: This is a common Opioid used as an analgesic and as anesthesia. As an analgesic, it is considered to be more potent than morphine but with fewer side effects. However, since the drug can be administered in the form of patches, it can be dangerous when exposed to children and should be used with caution. Fentanyl has many of the side effects associated with opioids including nausea, vomiting, headaches, constipation, amongst others.

CDC Guidelines

Since opiates are often used for managing pain, the CDC has issued a guideline which should be followed when prescribing the opiates as pain medication. Some of the rules mentioned in the guideline are:

  • Do Benefits Outweigh Risks? The patient’s condition should be reviewed thoroughly before an appropriate opiate is prescribed for pain medication. Treatment goals should be established by going through the options with the patient.

  • Involve Both Parties in the Process: The patient and the physician should see each other as a team. Both parties have a responsibility in ensuring only the best opiate treatment is taken for managing pain.

  • Use Only When Necessary: The adverse effects of opioids can be severe. Other options for managing pain should be considered before the clinician and patient can settle on opioids.

  • Thorough Control of Treatment: Only the minimum effective dose should be used without exception. The patient should be reviewed every one to four weeks. Treatment can be tweaked during this time to minimize the risk of opiate abuse and addiction.

Addiction and Abuse

One advantage of opiates is that they are very effective in managing moderate, severe, and acute pain. When one is experiencing severe pain their quality of life is reduced and it may be impossible to overcome the physical and psychological distress so that one can go back to their day to day tasks. Even though they can be effective in managing severe pain in the short term patients and their physicians need to be cautious when using the drug.

Even when used as a pain medication, they can cause tolerance after using them for a significant period. A dosage of opioids will fail to have the same effect after only a few weeks of using it and therefore will compel the patient to take more of the drug. It is probably for this reason that most people report to abusing opiates more than methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin combined.

Opiate addiction is a serious problem that should be addressed professionally. If you are experiencing any side effects, talk to your doctor and he will review your situation and prescribe an alternative medication that can minimize the side effects.

Consider going for rehabilitation if you have been abusing any opiates/opioids. At a drug rehab facility qualified medical staff can help you detox and prescribe medication that will minimize the withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification coupled with behavioral therapy is the best option for those struggling with opiate addiction. Questions or concerns about opiates?  If so, make sure to reach out to Sunshine Behavioral Health today.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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