Opioids, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, are most commonly prescribed by doctors for acute pain caused by acute injury or surgery. When taken as directed by a doctor, they are generally considered safe. That being said, it is important to take certain precautions if you’ve been prescribed opioids.   

Prescription opioids act on opioid receptors in the brain, and because of that, the body reduces the perception of pain. This happens by inhibiting the transmission of pain signaling to the brain.  

Prescription opioids produce relaxation and a sense of wellbeing, giving the person psychological relief from pain. The effect of emotional pain relief can become a problem and set you up for addiction if you’re not careful to avoid misuse.

Why Are Opioids are Prescribed?

Opioids are prescribed because they’re effective at providing relief for acute pain. However, since the 1990s, they have been increasingly prescribed for chronic pain, which has contributed significantly to a national health crisis.  

Acute pain lasts 3-7 days and is the result of a sudden injury or surgery. Chronic pain, on the other hand, typically lasts 3 or more months, and there’s little evidence indicating that treating chronic pain with opioids is effective in the long term. It’s wise to take the nature of your pain into account as opioids can increase overall sensitivity to pain.

Also, there are many issues with taking prescription opioids for a long period, being that it increases the likelihood of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. 

Oxycodone vs OxyContin: Is There a Difference?

When patients ask about the different between oxycodone vs OxyContin, they often expect a drawn out explanation. But in short, there is little to no difference between the two drugs

Oxycodone has been used as a semi-synthetic pain reliever since the early 1900s. Derived from the poppy plant, oxycodone shares similar addictive qualities and effects to heroin, opium, and morphine. Unfortunately, its use sky-rocketed in the ‘90’s as users quickly found that crushing the control-released medication resulted in a more intense high. From that point on, abuse and overdoses of the opioid have been on the rise.

In the mid-90’s Purdue Pharma released OxyContin, which is simply branded oxycodone. The creation and distribution of OxyContin is controversial to say the least. Many people claim that Purdue Pharma’s persistent and misleading marketing campaigns as well as pushing doctors to prescribe the drug, is what created the current opioid crisis. 

OxyContin was meant to be a slow-release drug to avoid an immediate high. However, if a person has psychosocial issues separate from biological dependence, they can easily fall into patterns of behavior characterized as addictive. 

When it comes down to a decision between oxycodone vs OxyContin, only you and your doctor can decide what’s best for you. However, being an informed consumer of any drug can reduce the potential of dependence and ultimately addiction.

Tolerance, Dependence and Addiction of Prescription Opioids

In a nutshell, tolerance is needing more medication to provide the same therapeutic effect as before. The mind and body are incredibly adaptive to new stimuli and respond accordingly.  

Tolerance is a normal physiological response to continued use of opioids regardless of dependence or addiction. Though it’s a separate issue from dependence or addiction, it can place the opioid-user at risk for overdose.

Dependence occurs when the body has become physiologically dependent on opioids. This dependence is indicated by withdrawal symptoms, which are purely physiological, when the medication is removed.  

Addiction is characterized by repeated, compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that continue despite recurrent negative consequences.  For example, a diabetic person is considered insulin “dependent”, but we wouldn’t say that they were “addicted” to insulin.

How Opioids Increase Sensitivity To Pain

Opioids don’t target the specific area that you are experiencing pain in the way a local anesthetic would. They affect all the opioid receptors in the body and disrupt the transmission of pain signals in a more universal way. 

This can lead to a condition known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia, or increased sensitivity to pain. The action leading to hyperalgesia is not fully understood, the phenomenon is well documented and known to occur over time.  

Although pain is very real, it’s subjective, and people experience pain in varying degrees making it difficult to measure objectively. Needless to say, we don’t have to throw common sense out the window. If you cut your finger, you’ll probably experience pain, but the degree to which you experience that pain to someone else is subjective.

What You Should Know About Your Opioid Prescription

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about all medications you are prescribed. Being fully informed and acting on that information is key to managing pain while also having a healthy regard for safety. It may be possible to find other options, besides opioids, for managing pain.

Only Take Prescription Opioids As Directed

Taking a prescription opioid in greater amounts or for longer than prescribed is misuse of the medication and increases chances of becoming addicted

To minimize your chances of overdosing, you should avoid:

  • Any prescription medications that are not prescribed to you
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Muscle relaxers

Finally, taking prescription opioids for the euphoric effect is a misuse of your medication, which puts you at risk for addiction.

Managing Pain Without Medication

Opioids can be effective for the management of acute pain. However, follow through with your physician’s recommendations for managing pain without medication including:

  • Physical therapy
  • Allowing an appropriate amount of time for rest and recovery
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic treatments

It’s better to take full responsibility for your pain management strategy, including prescriptions, as you will undoubtedly experience the consequences. The best way forward will be to actively participate in your recovery and look for solutions to pain management without relying exclusively on opioids.  

Remember, only take opioids as directed as tolerance and dependence happen relatively quickly.  And finally, taking opioids because you enjoy the way they make you feel places you at greater risk for becoming addicted.