Opiates are drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Some doctors may prescribe opiates for pain, and like just about every medication, opiates have both advantages and disadvantages. Compared to other pain relievers, opiates are fast acting, and usually work on patients with intense or chronic pain. On the down side, opiates can be habit forming, and most of them also have a number of undesirable side effects.
Opiates for pain are typically administered one of two ways, either intravenously or orally. When given intravenously, or directly injected into a vein, most opiates begin to work almost immediately. The pain-relieving effects of oral opiates usually take a little longer, but often start dulling pain before other types of analgesics.
Doctors may choose to use opiates if the patient is experiencing extreme pain. Unlike most over-the-counter pain relievers, opiates can dull very intense pain. They are often given to patients with broken bones or, in small doses, mothers who are in labor. Unlike a spinal epidural, opiates for pain during pregnancy takes the edge off the pain, but doesn't completely numb it. Because of this, the mother is still able to push when the time comes.
Another advantage to opiates to relieve pain is the relaxing effect that many types of opiates have on people. These analgesics not only dull severe pain quickly, but also relieve anxiety in many patients. This can help keep a patient calm during an intense situation that possibly caused his pain, such as a car accident. This feeling, however, can also be a contributing factor to dependence on this medication.
Many health professionals agree that one of the biggest disadvantages of using opiates is the possibility of the patient becoming addicted to the drug. Patients who take opiates for longer than a couple of weeks are more at risk of developing a dependency on these drugs. After these patients stop taking opiates for pain, withdrawal symptoms will usually begin within a day.
Withdrawal symptoms in these cases can include a runny nose, sweating, muscle aches, anxiety, and insomnia. Within a week these symptoms may intensify, and new symptoms may also be present, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cold sweats, and pale skin. When going through an opiate withdrawal, individuals will usually find themselves having intense cravings for the drug.
Besides addiction, there are more side effects linked to long term use of opiates. Some users have reported sexual problems, including a decreased libido and infertility, after taking these drugs for a long time. Other long-term side effects of these medications include a loss of appetite that can lead to severe or unhealthy weight loss.