What Is Opioid Therapy?

Valerie Goldberg
Valerie Goldberg

Opioid therapy is the process of using opioid medications for treating pain. Oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and hydrocodone are all considered opioid pain medicines. These prescription drugs can be used to treat pain stemming from potentially life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. Opioid medications have addictive properties, so a primary care doctor or a specialist often will send a patient to a specially trained pain management anesthesiologist for opioid therapy. Pain management clinics work closely with patients to monitor the amount of pills they take so their pain is treated properly and there is a lower chance of addiction or drug abuse.

A pain management specialist works with each patient to come up with an opioid therapy plan. A person's specific medical condition, pain level and list of other medications he is taking can affect the opioid therapy plan. Some patients may be given opioid medications to use routinely, several times a day. Other patients may be prescribed a non-opioid medication, such as an antidepressant or anticonvulsant, to manage pain daily and a lower amount of opioid pills to take only for extreme pain flares.

Patients should be aware of potential side effects when beginning opioid therapy. Typical side effects of opioids include dizziness, fatigue, constipation and sweating. Some patients may only experience these side effects during their first few days on opioid medications. Constipation is one side effect that can be a long-term issue for pain patients, so a person who uses opioid medications and experiences chronic constipation should speak to his doctor about a high-fiber diet or the use of laxatives. If a person experiences less common but more serious side effect of opioids, such as breathing issues, a seizure or hives, then he should seek emergency medical attention.

Patients may have to sign a pain contract when they first sign up for opioid therapy. When a patient signs this type of contract, he typically is agreeing that he will not accept opioid pain medicine from any other pain management clinic. These contracts help people in true pain get the medications they need while helping stop abuse of the system by those who intend to misuse opioid medications. Contracts also may include clauses that make patients promise never to sell or share their opioid pills with another person.

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