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Pain medications - narcotics

Alternative Names

Painkillers; Drugs for pain; Analgesics; Opiods

Information

Narcotics (also called opioid pain relievers) are used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers. When used carefully and under a doctor's direct care, these drugs can be effective at reducing pain.

Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain. When used carefully and under a doctor's direct care, they can be effective at reducing pain. Almost always, you should not use a narcotic medicine for more than 3 to 4 months.

NAMES OF NARCOTICS

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic) -- available as a patch
  • Hydrocodone ( Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine (MS Contin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

TAKING NARCOTICS

These drugs can be abused and addictive, and have been associated with accidental overdose deaths. Always take narcotics as prescribed. Your doctor may suggest that you take your medicine only when you feel pain.

Or, your doctor may suggest taking a narcotic on a regular schedule. Allowing the medicine to wear off before taking more of it can make the pain difficult to control.

Taking narcotics to control the pain of cancer or other medical problems does not itself lead to addiction.

Store narcotics safely and securely in your home.

You may need a pain specialist to help you manage long-term pain.

SIDE EFFECTS OF NARCOTICS

Drowsiness and impaired judgment often occur with these medications. When taking a narcotic, do not drink alcohol, drive, or operate heavy machinery.

You can relieve itching by reducing the dose or talking to your doctor about switching medications.

To help with constipation, drink more fluids, get more exercise, eat foods with extra fiber, and use stool softeners, if needed.

If nausea or vomiting occur, try taking the narcotic with food.

Withdrawal symptoms are common when you stop taking a narcotic. Symptoms include strong desire for the medicine (craving), yawning, insomnia, restlessness, mood swings, diarrhea. To prevent withdrawal symptoms, your doctor may recommend you gradually lower the dosage over time.

References

Cohen SP, Raja SN. Pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 29.

Updated: 5/13/2013

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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