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What Are the Different Types of Opioid Painkillers?

Opioid painkillers are narcotic pain medications used to treat moderate to severe pain. They are typically used for acute pain, though patients who suffer from severe chronic pain that does not respond to other non-narcotic medications may also take opioid painkillers. Opioid medications were originally manufactured from opium poppies, though many are lab-created today; these drugs vary in strength from mild to extremely potent and are available in several different forms, including oral tablets or pills, intravenous solutions, and topical medications. Common opioid painkillers include codeine and tramadol. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine are among the more potent choices available.

Codeine and tramadol are the least potent opioid painkillers. They are short-acting and are often combined with acetaminophen or other medications, such as cough suppressants. These painkillers are typically used for short periods of acute pain from illness or injury and are typically found as oral pills or capsules or in a liquid oral form. They are not typically used for severe pain or chronic pain, however.

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are stronger opioid painkillers and carry a higher risk of addiction and dependence than weaker opioids. Oxycodone is available in both short-acting and long-acting forms, while hydrocodone is a short-acting opioid only. Both painkillers are available in pill or tablet forms. Hydrocodone is sometimes mixed with acetaminophen in a single tablet, while oxycodone tablets do not contain any other pain medications.

Morphine is one of the most powerful and effective opioid painkillers, and it is typically only administered under the direct supervision of a doctor. While an oral form as a lozenge is available, most patients receive morphine as an injection or through an intravenous solution in a medical setting. It is reserved for severe acute pain due to its potency and high risk of dependence.

Side effects of opioid painkillers are similar among all types, though patients taking larger doses or more potent medications may experience more side effects than those taking weaker opioids. Common side effects include nausea, dizziness, and constipation. Severe bouts of vomiting, hallucinations, or respiratory depression can be signs of a serious reaction or overdose and require prompt medical attention. Symptoms of an emergency allergic reaction include hives, severe itching, and swelling of the face or mouth.

All opioid painkillers carry a risk of dependency and can result in severe side effects in some people. It is important for patients taking narcotic pain medications to take them exactly as directed and never stop taking the medication until directed to do so by their doctors to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Accurate dosage of opioid painkillers is also extremely important, as overdoses can be fatal. These medications have a tendency to interact adversely with many other drugs, so it’s important for patients to discuss taking other medications with their doctors before consuming them.

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