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Opioid analgesics are used to relieve pain from a variety of conditions. Some are used before or during surgery (including dental surgery), both to relieve pain and to make anesthetics work more effectively. They may also be used for the same purposes during labor and delivery.
Opioid analgesics relieve pain by acting directly on the central nervous system. However, this can also lead to unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, breathing problems, and physical or mental dependence.
Among the drugs in this category are codeine; propoxyphene (Darvon); propoxyphene and acetaminophen (Darvocet N); meperidine (Demerol); hydromorphone (Dilaudid); morphine; oxycodone; oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet); and hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Lortab, Anexsia). These drugs come in many forms—tablets, syrups, suppositories, and injections—and are sold only by prescription. For some, a new prescription is required for each new supply; refills are prohibited, according to federal regulations.
Recommended doses vary, depending on the type of opioid analgesic and the form in which it is being used. Doses may be different for different patients. The person should check with the physician who prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for correct dosages, and to understand how to take the drug.
A patient should always take opioid analgesics exactly as directed. Larger or more frequent doses should never be taken, and the drug should not be taken for longer than directed. The person should not stop taking the drug suddenly without checking with the physician or dentist who prescribed it. Gradually tapering the dose may reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms.
For pain following major surgery, it is common practice to give narcotic analgesics by intravenous injection for the first 24–48 hours. This may be followed by oral narcotics for the next 24–48 hours, and then non-narcotic analgesics.
Many hospitals use patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), a system in which the analgesics are given intravenously (by vein), and the patient can control the dose by pushing a button on a pump. This system lets the patient have more control over the amount of medication needed to relieve pain, and eliminates the anxiety that comes from expecting the return of pain when the dose wears off.
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, Sam Uretsky PharmD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery, 2004
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