If you are taking prescription painkillers for chronic pain, it is important to be concerned about the possible dangers of these drugs. When a person takes opioids in the way they were prescribed without deviating from their dosage, these drugs are usually not harmful, but there is still a chance for possible side effects as well as a developing dependence. And especially when someone abuses these drugs, even more harmful issues are likely to occur.
Opioids Can Be Deadly
According to the NIDA, “Taken as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain safely and effectively. However, when abused, even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death.” This is because opioid drugs slow down the body’s functions, including respiration.
When a person takes a dose that is higher than prescribed or takes the drug more often than they should, it can lead to respiratory depression so intense that the individual’s breathing may slow to dangerous levels or stop altogether. It is important to be aware of this issue. However, if you take opioids as prescribed, it normally will not occur.
Opioids Can Be Addictive
“Properly managed, short-term medical use of opioid analgesics rarely causes addiction––characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite serious adverse consequences.” Addiction is an extremely debilitating disease that can affect a person’s entire life including their finances, relationships, career, health, and behavior. Although a person who takes opioids properly should not worry about addiction, it is important to understand that the prescribed dosage is given specifically so that these issues do not occur.
In addition, dependence and tolerance will occur as a result of long-term opioid use, whether a person is abusing these drugs or not. These issues can lead to addiction because they may cause a person to start taking more of the drug in order to feel the same effects (tolerance) or feel as if they need it in order to manage stress, fall asleep at night, or generally function (dependence).
Opioids Can Cause Side Effects
Many of the common side effects caused by regular opioid use are not dangerous, including constipation, dry mouth, nausea sweating, and mood swings. However, some effects can be harmful. These include:
- Central Sleep Apnea
The issue of central sleep apnea could develop with regular, long-term opioid use. “This means there are short periods of time that you stop breathing during sleep,” according to the University of Utah Health Care.
- Lung problems and heart problems
Because of the sedation and the slowed breathing that can occur with even low doses of opioids, the heart and lungs may sustain possible damage over time as a result of the individual not getting enough air.
Some prescription painkillers, like oxycodone, can cause seizures in certain users (NLM).
Yes, it is important to be concerned about the dangers of opioid drugs, especially if you are planning on taking them for a prolonged period of time. But patients who take these drugs should also be aware that most of the issues they normally cause are related to overuse and abuse and that following their doctors’ instructions will help these individuals avoid them.