Opioids are useful for short term cases such as when you break a bone or have surgery. We run into problems when we need to take opioids longterm.
Our bodies become tolerant to opioids, so we need to take higher doses for the same effect we first had.
Opioids affect our breathing. Because of this, or combined with interactions with other drugs, opioids cause unintentional overdoses. This happens approximately every 25 minutes in the United States.
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Transcription: What are the problems with opioids?
Dr. Heather Tick: People often asked me, what are the problems with opioids? Opioids are a class of drugs that come from the opium poppy. That’s why they’re called opioids. We have all sorts of synthetic versions of those and long acting versions, short acting versions, they’ve been around for a long, long time. But they’ve never been used quite like they’re being used right now for chronic pain. The problem with opioids is that our bodies get tolerant to them which means that they stop working and we need more and more to try and get the same effect that we got the first time we took them.
Now, when you have something like a broken bone or are having surgery, something that’s short in timeframe in terms of your pain needs, Opioids can work extremely well. We run into problems when we want or need to take them for longer. That’s when they become less and less effective and we need higher and higher doses. Opioids also have another problem in that they interfere with our breathing so they can have some very severe consequences like inadvertent which means unintentional overdoses and it doesn’t necessarily even mean that you’ve taken extra drug to be overdosed. You might have taken another type of drug which affects the way that the opioid works or also affects your breathing by interfering with it and the two of them together cause a death. And this happens approximately once every 25 minutes in the United States right now. So it’s a huge problem. So what I find is that when people don’t start on opioids or they used them only for short period of time or when they take them intermittently so no more than 2 or 3 times a week, they can remain extremely useful. But when people try to take opioids every single day, usually they don’t do so well. There’s never a week that goes by that one of my patients doesn’t come in and say, “Thank God I’m off those drugs.” Either they say, “I actually have less pain and I feel more like myself” or they say “I have the same pain but I have my personality back and I can do so much more so I’m really glad I came off.”