Skip navigation

Pain medications - narcotics

Narcotics (also called opioid pain relievers) are used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers. When used carefully and under a doctor's direct care, these drugs can be effective at reducing pain.

Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain. When used carefully and under a doctor's direct care, they can be effective at reducing pain. Almost always, you should not use a narcotic medicine for more than 3 to 4 months.

NAMES OF NARCOTICS

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic) -- available as a patch
  • Hydrocodone ( Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine (MS Contin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

TAKING NARCOTICS

These drugs can be abused and addictive, and have been associated with accidental overdose deaths. Always take narcotics as prescribed. Your doctor may suggest that you take your medicine only when you feel pain.

Or, your doctor may suggest taking a narcotic on a regular schedule. Allowing the medicine to wear off before taking more of it can make the pain difficult to control.

Taking narcotics to control the pain of cancer or other medical problems does not itself lead to addiction.

Store narcotics safely and securely in your home.

You may need a pain specialist to help you manage long-term pain.

SIDE EFFECTS OF NARCOTICS

Drowsiness and impaired judgment often occur with these medications. When taking a narcotic, do not drink alcohol, drive, or operate heavy machinery.

You can relieve itching by reducing the dose or talking to your doctor about switching medications.

To help with constipation, drink more fluids, get more exercise, eat foods with extra fiber, and use stool softeners, if needed.

If nausea or vomiting occur, try taking the narcotic with food.

Withdrawal symptoms are common when you stop taking a narcotic. Symptoms include strong desire for the medicine (craving), yawning, insomnia, restlessness, mood swings, diarrhea. To prevent withdrawal symptoms, your doctor may recommend you gradually lower the dosage over time.

Alternative Names

Painkillers; Drugs for pain; Analgesics; Opiods

References

Cohen SP, Raja SN. Pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 29.

Update Date: 5/13/2013

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

MedlinePlus Topics

A.D.A.M Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2014, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.

A.D.A.M Logo