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Pain medications - narcotics

Alternative Names

Painkillers; Drugs for pain; Analgesics

Information

Narcotics (also called opioid pain relievers) are used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers. When used carefully and under a doctor's direct care, these drugs can be effective at reducing pain.

Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain and blocking the feeling of pain. They work well for short-term pain relief. Almost always, you should limit their use to no more than 3 to 4 months.

NAMES OF NARCOTICS

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic) -- available as a patch
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine (MS Contin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone

TAKING NARCOTICS

Always take narcotics as prescribed, unless you have side effects. Your doctor may suggest that you only take pain pills when you feel pain.

At other times, the health care provider may suggest taking a narcotic on a regular schedule. Allowing the pain medication to wear off before taking more of it can make the pain difficult to control. Taking narcotics to control the pain of cancer or other medical problems does not itself lead to addiction.

Store narcotics safely and securely if other people live in your home.

You may need a pain specialist to help you manage long-term pain.

SIDE EFFECTS OF NARCOTICS

Drowsiness and impaired judgment often occur with these medications. When taking narcotics, do not drink alcohol, drive, or operate heavy machinery.

You can relieve itching by reducing the dose or talking to your health care provider about switching medications.

To help with constipation, talk to your health care provider about drinking more fluids, getting more exercise, eating foods with extra fiber, and using stool softeners.

If nausea or vomiting occur, try taking narcotics with food.

References

Max MB. Pain. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 28.

Zhou YL. Principles of pain management. In: Bradley WG, Daroff Rb, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Bradley: Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 48.


Review Date: 5/22/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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