Opioids, A Pain Killer? Or Cause Of Pain?

Pain — A spasm in your back, a toothache, recovering from a fracture or dislocation, a degree of discomfort following surgery; it comes in many forms, but usually gets treated with some form of pain pill from Tylenol to hydrocodone (Vicodin).


The reason many of the drugs that help relieve pain are effective is because of their ability to target the process of pain signaling in the body.  However, a specific group of these painkillers, known as opioids, have a serious risk of dependence and addiction and are frequently abused.


Why is this?


Opioids, many people may be familiar with their common names; they include but are not limited to: Morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.  These opioids are commonly prescribed by physicians for treatment of either chronic pain, or a post surgery treatment to take the edge off.  While they may have varying side effects for different people who use them, opioids are very effective in targeting and almost completely numbing the human body’s ability pain signaling pathway.  That would help explain why after their wisdom teeth get pulled most people are clamoring for some Vicodin.


Opioids do their job of stopping pain in several different ways, but one that really sticks out is the ability to slow, and even stop the process known as nociception.  This process is responsible for taking in signals from nerves in the body and transferring them to the brain to be “felt” as pain.  When these signals are on their way to the brain, nociception is responsible for the release of many neurotransmitters, and Substance P.  When someone thinks about Substance P, they should just think of P for pain, because its role in the body is to make the body’s sensitivity to the pain signal being transferred very strong.  So, after its release the neurons really start to fire and the signal gets shot up into the brain with some fervor. It is important for opioids to inhibit the release of Substance P.  However, is it a good thing to stop the body from feeling pain?


Why not?


It was brought up in a class discussion, but why can’t we simply take opioids and not have to feel pain?  There is one huge drawback to opioids, they are have a high rate of addiction and physical dependence.  Something that is able to affect the brain in such a drastic manner can cause many harmful problems if abused.  Maybe people who have been affected by a heroin addiction will attest to that.  Heroin is also known as morphine diacetate, is a synthetically produced opioid that is highly addictive and known for incredible negative withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, vomiting, and involuntary spasms of the body.  Also to note, these symptoms can begin to show a presence as early as six hours after taking the drug.


Heroin is just another opioid, which before it became widely abused was just another attempt at altering morphine to make it more effective.  The stories of addiction to heroin are very similar to most who abuse any opioid; almost impossible to overcome without treatment, because of the severe emotional and physical distress caused to the body.

So it is important to answer the question do opioids cause more pain than they relieve?

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