Side Effects of Opioids

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Learn the Short and Long Term Risks Associated with Opioid Use

Opioids are powerful drugs commonly known for their ability to dull sensations of pain and trigger intense feelings of pleasure.  However, these substances are also associated with a multitude of unwanted side effects ranging in severity from mild to life threatening.  These include nausea, vomiting, constipation, extreme sedation, breathing problems, physical and psychological dependence, overdose and even death.    

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What are Opioids

 The term Opioid refers to a class of drugs that bind to opioid receptors in the body to reduce sensations of pain.  Opioids include pain relievers available legally by prescription such as Oxycodone (OxyContin), Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Codeine, Morphine, and many others, as well as the illegal street drug Heroinand synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl.  All Opioids are highly addictive substances and pose serious risks to anyone who uses them.   

Risks Associated with Opioid Use

Anyone taking opioids, whether by prescription or otherwise, is at risk for adverse effects including addiction, unintentional overdose and death. From 1999 to 2017, more than 218,000 people died from overdose related to prescription opioids in the United States.  Up to 1 in 4 people receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid dependence. 

In addition to the serious risks of opioid use disorder and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can have a number of side effects, even when taken as directed.  

Short-term Side Effects of Opioid Use

Opioids can cause a wide range of short-term effects. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sedation are among the most common reactions to these drugs.  Others include: 

  • Feelings of euphoria 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Headache 
  • Flushing 
  • Mental fog 
  • Constipation 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Itching 
  • Respiratory depression 
  • Lethargy 

Long Term Side Effects of Opioids

Chronic or long-term use of Opioids can lead to a number of more serious side effects and complications including: 

  • Addiction 
  • Irregular heart beat 
  • Increased risk of heart attack 
  • Depression 
  • Severe abdominal pain 
  • Hormonal problems 
  • Weak bones 
  • Involuntary muscle twitching or jerking  
  • Increased sensitivity to pain 

Prescription Opioids

Prescription Opioids are often used to treat chronic or acute pain.  Serious risks are associated with the use of prescription Opioids and side effects can develop even when these drugs are used as directed.    

As prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen sharply over the last two decades, so have rates ofopioid addiction and overdose. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, and 32% of those deaths involved prescription opioids. 

Because Prescription Opioids are associated with a risk of prescription misuse and Opioid use disorder, they also can have the adverse effect of leading to illegal drug use. 

Illegal Opioids –Heroin

Heroin is an illegaopioid drug that is associated with significant additional adverse effects: 

  • As a street drug, heroin is often “cut” with other drugs or substances.  Since the user is unaware how much actual heroin is being used they are at an increased risk of overdose. 
  • Heroin is often injected, IV drug users are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, as well as bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream, and heart. TheCDCreports that people who inject drugs accounted for 9 percent of HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016. 
  • Because Heroin is an illegal Schedule 1 Narcotic its use is also associated with the consequences of criminal prosecution 

Synthetic Opioids –Fentanyl

Because Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid, is 80-100 times more potent than morphine it is highly correlated with fatal overdose.  The CDC reports synthetic opioids were involved in 31,335 overdose deaths in 2018 — nearly half of all drug overdose deaths in that year. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) likely drove the increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone) from 2017 to 2018. 

If you are concerned that you or someone you love may be struggling with any of the potential adverse effects of Opioid use please call.  We can help determine whether or not Opioid use has become a problem and if it has, we can formulate an effective holistic treatment plan that will help you or your loved one get back to their best self and thrive!