Each year, 17,000 people in America are killed by Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and other opioids.  Many people don’t think that the risk applies to them, that they are free from the potentially dangerous side effects such prescription drugs can cause.  When used as prescribed, opioids are meant to help relieve severe short-term pain from a broken bone, surgery, or to manage chronic pain from certain illnesses or cancer.  Because of the nature of these types of medications, it’s very easy to misuse them inadvertently either by combining them with other drugs (like sleeping pills) or alcohol.  Taking opioids for long periods of time or too high of a dose can lead to addiction or a possible overdose.  Here at Discovery Institute, we have seen the devastating effects these types of pain killers have on lives, which is why we wanted to share the most common misconceptions about opioids.

Most Common Misconceptions About Opioids

Misconception #1:  When used to treat pain, opioids are not addictive.  This could not be farther from the truth.  There aren’t hard facts, but it’s estimated that between 5 to 25 percent of people taking these kinds of drugs for long periods of time ultimately become addicted.  Since opioids are such strong pharmaceuticals, it is important to talk to your doctor about reserving these types of medication for extreme pain management only.  Your doctor should inform you of the early warning signs of addiction if you are taking any kind of opioids for more than a few weeks.  Things you want to keep an eye out for include cravings, unusual moodiness, taking unnecessary risks, and temper flare-ups.

Misconception #2:  Opioids are good for managing chronic pain.  Roughly 90 percent of those suffering from long-term pain end up being prescribed one of these medications.  It’s important to note that there isn’t much evidence to support that opioids are safe or even helpful when used long-term.  What is known, however, is that those who take this form of the drug for more than a few weeks frequently develop a tolerance to them, meaning that higher doses are needed to have the same effect they once did—that is how dependency originates.  Taking higher doses for longer periods of time significantly increases your risk of addiction.  There are a lot of side-effects associated with taking higher doses of opioids: they can produce issues with your immune system, cause constipation and nausea, disrupt your sex life, and make you fuzzy-headed to the point you can’t take part in activities that could help hasten your recovery.  If that wasn’t enough, these drugs also have been known to make some people more sensitive to pain.

Misconception #3:  Versions that have extended-release formulas are safer.  Drugs like morphine, oxycodone, and hydromorphone are stronger than faster acting formulas and stay in the body longer, meaning such pharmaceuticals should only be used for patients that need pain relief round-the-clock.  Again, there is no proof that shows these drugs are safer or work better than their counterparts.  Those who have already formed an addiction will also try to obtain these longer-acting versions because they are formulated for higher potency.

If you think a loved one or even you yourself are dependent on opioids, call us at the Discovery Institute (800) 714-2175 for more information or for a consultation.  We understand that addiction is a form of illness, just as your injury.  There is hope for recovery—from both the pain and the drug dependency—and we can help.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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