Opioids – pain medication

What are opioids?

Opioids, or opiates, are a group of drugs that are prescribed for moderate to severe pain. They are very effective for short term pain relief and in end-of-life treatment, however there is very little evidence that they are effective for long term pain relief.

Examples of opioids include (but not limited to); codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone.

Why focus on opioid prescribing?

There has been an increase in the prescribing of opioids in some longer-term conditions and in Lincolnshire the percentage of patients taking opioids is significantly higher than the national average.

This can be seen particularly in our coastal areas, where we have an increased older population, with a mixture of different health conditions.

We know that the use of opioids is only effective in managing pain for a small number of patients with long term conditions – usually low doses, used intermittently.

People can unfortunately get used to pain relief and develop an increased tolerance to the drugs as a consequence. This in turn can make someone reliant, and feel they need to increase their doses to manage pain.

When used appropriately opioids are a safe way to control pain, however, higher doses can increase the risk of serious complications and other medical conditions.

The risk is particularly higher in people who are middle aged, have a history of substance misuse and psychiatric conditions.

However, it can affect anyone.

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