Opioids are a type of pain medication made from the poppy that is used to make opium and heroin. People have used them to treat pain for thousands of years. They are effective for treating acute pain involving skin, muscle, or bone and joint pain in the first several weeks following injury or surgery and are less effective for treating chronic pain, headaches or nerve pain. They are sometimes used to treat cancer pain at the end of life. Some of the most common such pain relievers used today include hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, tramadol and codeine.
Misuse: A large and growing problem
Over the last 15 years, the prescription of this medication has increased tenfold. Misuse now kills more than 100 people each day in the United States. It is responsible for more deaths than both suicide and motor vehicle collisions combined. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nearly 16,000 Americans died from overdoses involving these pain relievers in 2009. Most of these deaths were accidental.
The pain dilemma
Pain is expected after injury or surgery, and mindset matters. Pain relievers cannot take pain away; they just make the pain less bothersome. Patients quickly develop tolerance to these drugs, which means it requires more medicine to achieve the same amount of pain relief as time goes by. This is why such pain relievers work well in the short term, but do not work for long-term chronic pain.
These pain relievers are sometimes used by patients or their friends to get high. Over half of the teens abusing these medicines get them from family or friends without their knowledge. In addition to potential poisoning, recreational use creates addiction. One study of heroin users found that 39% of addicts reported being “hooked” on prescription pain relievers first.