What Is Opioid Toxicity?

Glyn Sinclair
Glyn Sinclair

Opioids are chemicals that are able to attach to opioid receptors in the nervous system. They are used primarily to relieve pain and are narcotic in effect, meaning they have the ability to affect behavior. For this reason, they are sometimes sold as illegal street drugs. Opioid toxicity occurs when the body has an allergic reaction to opioids, or because of an overdose. People suffering from this condition can have a number of symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, trouble breathing, and even coma.

Causes for opioid toxicity can include a sudden increase in regular dosage, renal, or kidney failure, drug interaction, and dehydration. When a person is suffering from kidney disease he may be unable to excrete the opioid sufficiently and it could build up in his system. As soon as a patient displays symptoms of opioid toxicity, such as extreme sedation, a physician will often cut back on the dose and extend the period between dosages. This condition may occur more readily in some people and not others, and can depend on the individual’s threshold to pain. Treatment for opioid toxicity can involve hydrating the patient and treating their level of anxiety and agitation.

Respiratory depression, or hypoventilation, due to overdose of opioids, can create a situation where the person can go into respiratory arrest, which means he stops breathing altogether and death can occur. In cases where opioid toxicity causes respiratory arrest to happen, respiratory stimulants may be used to counteract the condition. Other negative consequences of opioid toxicity can include lung injury and cardiotoxicity, which is where the heart muscles may become damaged. When this happens, the heart is unable to pump efficiently. Stenosing lesions, or restriction of the upper airway, can also be a cause of death from opioid toxicity.

Opioids are renowned for instilling a feeling of euphoria and this has made them popular as recreational drugs. These drugs, in the form of the poppy plant, have been ingested for thousands of years to dull and treat pain. They were actually employed by the medical profession to treat depression in patients up until the 1950s. Dependence on the drug soon lead to withdrawal syndrome in patients, and with the advent of synthetically manufactured opioids and the increase of opioid toxicity, the drug was classified as a restricted medication. This has not stopped the liberal dispensing of opioids for various pain conditions, and there is a growing problem with people becoming addicted to the compound, and as such, cases of opioid toxicity are on the rise.

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