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Understanding Narcotic Pain Medications

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 9/30/2009

This article will discuss narcotic pain medications and will provide important information that all patients should know.

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    Narcotic pain medications, also referred to as opioid pain medications, are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They help to reduce pain and a person's emotional response to pain by acting on certain spinal cord and brain receptors. They can be used to treat types of pain such as post-surgical pain, cancer pain, pain from a injury or accident or pain that stems from a chronic illness. This type of pain medication comes in several forms such as oral, intravenous, suppositories and as a drinkable liquid (syrup). The most common narcotic pain medications include hydrocodone (can also be used as a cough suppressant), morphine, oxycodone, methadone (can also be used to treat drug additions, particularly heroin) and codeine.

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    What are the Possible Side Effects?

    Like all medications, this type of medication can cause side effects. The side effects will vary greatly from patient to patient in severity and length. Some patients may experience little to no side effects where other patients may experience several side effects. The side effects of this type of pain medication can include constipation (can get severe for some patients), drowsiness, trouble breathing, lightheadedness, (trouble urinating, fatigue, weakness, dry mouth and euphoria. Other side effects may also occur. In rare cases, an allergic reaction may occur. The signs of an allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hives, itching and rash.

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    Dependency and Addiction

    Narcotic pain medications pose a potential for dependency. Dependency is not addiction. When a patient's body becomes dependent, it will begin to expect the medication on a daily basis, but cravings will not be present. Dependency can occur after a week or more of taking this type of pain medication. Addiction is far more serious and it can occur. Addiction tends to occur in those who take more then prescribed or abuse this type of medication. When a patient is addicted they will experience behavioral changes and a significant craving for the medication that they are addicted to.

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    Warnings

    Those taking this type of pain medication should avoid drinking and other narcotic drugs. They should avoid driving and operating dangerous objects because this type of medication may affect their ability to think and their coordination and balance. Patients should check with their doctor to make sure this type of medication will not interact with any of their current medications. This medication should be used with extreme caution by patients with head injuries. This type of pain medication should be avoided if at all possible by women who are pregnant or nursing. Lastly, some medications of this type are combined with aspirin or acetaminophen so those with liver or digestive problems and those who are allergic to these medications should avoid these medications.

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    Resources

    WebMD. (2009) Narcotic Pain Killers. Retrieved on September 28, 2009 from Website: http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/narcotic-painkillers