Side Effects Of Using Opioid For Pain Relief

The 2018 Annual Surveillance Report of Drug Related Risks and Outcomes collated by National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put out some alarming statistics regarding opioid misuse last August.

In the year 2016 alone, an astounding 11,824,000 people above 12 years of age had admitted to opioid misuse and 2,144,000 of them had reported having opioid use disorder. The CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain emphasizes the need for good communication between clinicians and doctors in order to understand the nature of pain and recommends that doctors take into account individual medical contexts before prescribing pain medication.

This dossier of studies on the risks of opioid addiction and misuse is in the public domain to empower American citizens with information to make informed choices. Despite national guidelines advising clinicians to prescribe opioids for the shortest period of time they deem fit, a study found that first-time users go for another refill and some are even reported to have been using opioids a year later. A staggering 96 percent of patients taking opioids for chronic pain experience at least one side effect, another study found. 

A recent blog published by Harvard Medical School described some of the side effects of this widespread addiction. The authors highlighted main health consequences, and they are as follows:

Constipation: The gastrointestinal tract is first affected prior to the brain. To cure the constipation, going on a high fiber diet and drinking liquids and medical laxatives might help.

Nausea: When constipation is not cured, it advertently results in nausea as the brain becomes foggy and triggers vomiting. Anti-nausea medications could reduce the tendency to puke.

Prescription opioids In 2014, about 18,893 overdose deaths in the U.S. were related to prescription pain relievers. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/John Moore

Sleepiness:  As opioids work on the brain, it induces drowsiness, especially when it is combined with medication for psychological problems, seizures, muscle spasms and sleep disorders. Opioids worsen sleep apnea, too. 

Breathing difficulty: It’s difficult to predict individual predisposition to addiction. But once the patient moves past the stage of tolerance and becomes dependant on the drugs to function and feel better, it leads to an addiction. A fatal dosage usually occurs when it adds on and interferes with other medications, and the person finds it difficult to breathe eventually.

Meanwhile,  the CDC guidelines warn of more side effects:

Birth defects: Studies have proven that when pregnant women take opioids, it leads to stillbirth and birth defects such as neural tube and heart defects. Early childbirth and poor fetal growth are other detrimental side effects experienced by newborns of women who are using opioids.

Negatively affects mental health: Depressed patients are more likely to overdose, more so when they are given higher dosages. Authorities find it hard to determine whether the overdoses are intentional or unintentional in certain suicide cases.

Worsens health of older population: Pre-existing conditions in people older than 75 years old like renal defects, heart failure, people at risk for peptic ulcer disease are exacerbated. To reduce side effects, topical NSAIDs over oral NSAIDS are recommended to treat local osteoarthritis.