Common Opiate Side Effects & Remedies for Each
People in the United States consume twice as many opioid pain relievers than the second ranking nation, Canada. According to the CDC, “Americans constitute 4.6% of the world’s population, but consuming approximately 80% of the world’s opioid supply”
Types of Opiates
Opiates can be natural such as opium, morphine, heroin, or codeine. They can be synthetic (man-made) such as methadone, buprenorphine, or fentanyl. Or, they can be semi-synthetic (synthesized from natural opiates) such as heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
How Opiates Work
Opiates work by binding like natural chemicals to opioid receptors producing pleasure and euphoria while decreasing brain activity and central nervous system functions. They depress breathing, heart rate, appetite, and other bodily functions and decrease pain and sexual desire. Opiates, when used repeatedly, can build tolerance and lead to dependency, addiction, and ultimately withdrawals when stopping their use
Constipation is perhaps, the most common adverse effect occurring with opioid use. Opiates affect the gastrointestinal tract by decreasing intestinal motility (contractions), blood flow, and secretions. Remedies at home include increasing fluids and fiber intake. Good sources of fiber include fruits and vegetables, (beans are excellent) and wheat or oat bran. OTC fiber products such as psyllium seed (Metamucil), synthetic methyl cellulose (Citrucel), and polycarbophil (Fibercon) or magnesium products such as Milk of Magnesia, or MIralax may be helpful. If all else fails, your doctor can prescribe various medications for this problem.
Itchy skin can be helped by antihistamines but, again this can be dangerous to some. Anti-itch products or cool baths may be helpful.
Nausea occurs in approximately 25 percent of all people using opioids. Remedies include:
- Ginger and peppermint are helpful. Drinking teas with ginger or peppermint and ginger ale or taking them raw or in other products often helps.
- Milk and toast, milk and crackers, or other bland foods may be able to absorb acid and coat the stomach.
- Suck on frozen fruits to calm the stomach and replace nutrients
- Smell lemons to cut through nausea
- Manage anxiety – antihistamines may work if not taking anti-anxiety medications. However, use of these medications is discretionary and could be dangerous depending on a variety of factors. Speak with your doctor first. Often anti-anxiety medications are prescribed to opioid users and this has led to increased overdoses.
- Always replace fluids when vomiting, dehydration can be seriously harmful.
CNS Adverse Effects
Sedation and decreased cognition is relative to opioid’s CNS depressing effects. Anxiety may be a result of disturbances to the CNS from opioid use or another reason. Remedies for both require a physician’s assessment of the person in order to prescribe appropriate medications. Exercise, healthy eating and engaging in productive activities may be helpful.