What Are Prescription Opioids and What Are They For?

October 25, 2019
Doctors sometimes prescribe prescription opioids because they're strong painkillers. The best-known form is morphine, but there are many others.

Prescription opioids are a group of medications that interact with opioid receptors in the nervous system. The pharmacological effect occurs as a result of this union, thus relieving pain. But do you know what are the main reasons why a doctor would prescribe opioids?

Opioids are safe medications, but they can lead to dependence. So when a person used a high amount, their body becomes used to the drug and increasingly requires a larger amount to produce the same effect.

The most commonly used compounds are hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. There are many more, but these are just the ones with the greatest safety margin.

What are prescriptions opioids for?

A poppy field and many pills.

People use prescription opioids to alleviate severe pain and immediately improve a person’s quality of life. Their mechanism of action modulates the painful stimuli in the nervous system by interacting with opioid receptors. As a result of this chain reaction, the intensity with which the body perceives pain either decreases or disappears completely.

The first opioid ever used for this purpose was morphine. Doctors use a scale that takes morphine as a starting point (that is, morphine is the value 1). Then, from there, a number indicates what percentage of action it has the medicine they should deliver to calculate the analgesic power of an opioid.

Opioid receptors are proteins located on the surface of the cells of the central nervous system (as in the brain, spinal cord, etc.) and they continue along the digestive tract.

The mechanism of dependence resides precisely in these molecules as new receptors synthesize with every dose thanks to the activation of the gene responsible for encoding the information for that particular protein. The activating signal modulates with more receptors and thus it becomes increasingly necessary to up the dose. This is so that more particles can bind to surface receptors to cause the desired effect.

You may be interested: The Common Classification of Painkillers

Why would a doctor prescribe them?

An assortment of prescription opioids.

Pain is the main reason why doctors prescribe opioids. When a person’s in chronic pain, then psychic and physical changes occur and worsen their quality of life.

In these types of situations, the only alternative is to prescribe minor opioids. The analgesic action of this subgroup of substances is moderate but they’re easier to handle.

However, major opioids may be administered when a person has intense acute pain. This family of drugs is more potent, but they have a very narrow therapeutic margin so dependence is very likely.

Whatever prescription opioids you get, you must only consume the amount indicated by your doctor, as it’s the only way to avoid side effects. These kinds of drugs are strictly administered under medical supervision. In addition to the dose, you must respect the interval between each dose and breaks from them.

Discover: What Are Opioid Medications Used For?

Side effects of prescription opioids

A hand next to spilled pills.

As mentioned above, the main drawback here is the risk of drug dependence. Still, doctors do prescribe these medications when there’s no other painkilling alternative. Another thing to keep in mind is the common abuse of these substances for recreational use.

In this regard, people have no medical justification to use them other than the “pleasant” sensation produced by them which is what creates addicts. When this happens, dependence is already so big that a person will go into withdrawal if they go off them.

Finally, note that despite their bad reputation, opioids are very useful not only for their great ability to alleviate pain, but also improve the mood of a person.vPeople regain functional capacity and can perform tasks normally when pain is out of the equation. This is very important in people with chronic disease because it also improves their mental health.

  • Álvarez, Y., & Farré, M. (2005). Farmacología de los opioides. Adicciones. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1280-4703(18)89443-9
  • Schug, S. A., & Gandham, N. (2007). Opioides. In Wall y Melzack. Tratado del Dolor. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-84-8174-949-6.50028-9
  • Clemente, M. (2004). Farmacologia De Analgesicos Opiaceos. Chemistry & …. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1280-4703(11)71031-3
  • Fernández Vallin Cárdenas, E. (2002). Opioides, Mecanismo de Acción. Foro de Investigación y Tratamiento Del Dolor Para La Comunidad Médica.