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Opioid (Pain) Medication and The Risks:

Opioid medicines and the risks:

Opioids are a type of medicine that helps relieve pain. They are very effective over short periods to relieve moderate to severe pain. They are also sometimes prescribed for long periods to relieve pain in serious conditions.

Examples of opioids include codeine (including co-codamol), tramadol, fentanyl, and morphine.

Opioids have a serious risk of addiction, especially with long-term use. Forward Leeds can offer support if you feel you have become addicted to opioid medication.

Signs of addiction and what to do:

Addiction can happen gradually. It can make you feel that you are no longer in control of how much medicine you need to take or how often you need to take it. You might feel that you need to carry on taking your medicine, even when it doesn’t help to relieve your pain.

Your body may have stopped sensing the pain-relieving effect of your opioid. This is called ‘opioid tolerance’. It could be an early warning sign that you are at risk of becoming addicted.

Signs that you may be addicted to opioids include:

  • Craving for the medicine
  • Feeling that you need to take more medicine than prescribed or as instructed on the pack, even though the medicine is causing unwanted effects on your overall health (see withdrawal side effects in the next section)
  • Feeling that you need to take additional medicines containing opioids or other pain relief medicines to achieve the same relief
  • Taking opioid medicines for reasons other than pain relief: for instance, to ‘stay calm’ or ‘help you sleep’
  • Experiencing withdrawal side effects when you stop taking the medicine suddenly.

Safely stopping opioid medicines:

If you have been taking your opioid medicine for a long time, do not stop taking it suddenly because this may cause unpleasant withdrawal side effects. It is important to get the right help and support when you are ready to stop taking your medicine.

Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist and if you feel you need support you can speak to Likewise Sheffield.

We will be able to help you to come off your opioid medicine slowly to reduce unpleasant withdrawal side effects. Safely coming off opioids can take a long time. Every person is different.

Withdrawal side effects may include a combination of the following:

  • Shivers
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Widespread or increased pain
  • Body aches
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you experience any of these talk to the person who prescribed your medicine or a pharmacist.

Effects of taking too much opioid medicine:

Taking too much opioid medicine is called an overdose, whether it’s intentional or not. This can be very serious and may cause death.

Some of the signs of an overdose include:

  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Slurred speech
  • Lips or fingernails are blue or purple
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Unresponsive or unconscious
  • Heavy or unusual snoring
  • Difficulty breathing or no breathing
  • Very small pupils in the eyes

Your family, friends, and carers should know these signs so they can take immediate action.

If you think that you or someone else has taken too much of their opioid medicine, dial 999 immediately.

The information on this page is adapted from Opioid medicines and the risk of addiction – a webpage on the British Government website.