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Painkillers and Opioid Use Disorder

Painkillers and Opioid Use Disorder

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One of the most frequent reasons people go to the doctor is for pain relief. There are a number of different drugs that can ease pain. About 20% of people will get a medication called an opioid. You could also hear your doctor call it an opiate or a narcotic.

These pain relievers are made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Morphine and codeine are the two natural products of opium.

Man-made versions of morphine produce the other opioids:


These drugs are generally safe when you take them for a short time, as prescribed by your doctor. But in addition to helping you manage the pain, they can also give you a feeling of well-being or euphoria.

And each of those effects could lead you to misuse the drug or take it in a way your doctor didn’t intend. You might:

  • Take a higher dose than prescribed
  • Take someone else’s prescription, even for a legitimate problem, like pain
  • Take it to get high

It’s a widespread problem. In 2015, approximately 2 million Americans : had substance abuse disorders related to opioid medications.

Opioid Use Disorder

For years we used terms like opioid abuse, drug abuse, drug dependence, and drug addiction interchangeably. But the guidelines doctors use to diagnose these issues no longer contain the terms abuse or dependence. Your doctor will look for these symptoms if he thinks you have opioid use disorder (OUD):

  • Using more of the drugs or using them longer than you intended
  • Can’t control or cut down use
  • Spend lots of time finding drugs or recovering from use
  • Have a strong desire or urge to use
  • Use despite legal or social problems
  • Stop or cut down important activities
  • Use while doing something dangerous, like driving
  • Use despite physical or mental problems
  • Become tolerant — need more of the drug or need to take it more often
  • Have withdrawal — physical symptoms when you try to stop

Your condition could be:

  • Mild: 2-3 symptoms
  • Moderate: 4-5 symptoms
  • Severe: 6 or more symptoms

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