You have been taking opioids for pain and do not want to take them any longer, but you know that withdrawal from opioids can be difficult. You have developed a dependency on your pain medication. You are aware that dependency, in conjunction with sudden withdrawal, results in unpleasant symptoms.
What should you do?
It is important to understand what opioids are, so that you know what happens when you stop taking these medications.
Opioids are chemical substances that cause a morphine-like response in the human body.
There are four classes of opioids including natural opiates, derived from the resin of the opium poppy, like morphine and codeine. Semi-synthetic opiates, like heroin, are derived from natural opioids. Fully synthetic opioids, include medications like fentanyl and methadone. Endogenous opioids are produced naturally, like endorphins and endomorphins. (1)
Signs and symptoms:
The signs and symptoms of withdrawal from opioids vary, depending upon the medication you are taking. Other factors to take into consideration include the dosage, how long you have been using the pain medication and how often you are taking it.
Withdrawal symptoms from opioids include severe dysphoria, sweating, nausea, rhinorrea, depression, severe fatigue, vomiting and pain. (2)
Other withdrawal symptoms include flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, bone aches, “feeling like you are crawling out of your skin”, goose bumps, chills, tremor and difficulty sleeping. (3)
How to cope during withdrawal:
If you gradually begin to reduce your intake of opioids, over a number of days or weeks, the severity of withdrawal symptoms will be reduced. (4)
Seek advice from your physician, as withdrawal should be done under proper medical supervision. Obtaining mental, emotional or spiritual help and counseling for withdrawal, is important. Find a family member, or a friend to encourage you.
Medications used for withdrawal:
Your physician will prescribe medications to help you succeed in overcoming your opioid dependency. These may include:
An article by Anita Srivastava and Meldon Kahan, in the Canadian Medical Journal, entitled “Buprenorphine: a potential new treatment option for opioid dependence,” suggested that this drug increases the safety of treatment, because of its low risk of over dosage. This is a semi-synthetic opiate.
A study done by the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, suggested that buprenorphine in conjunction with naloxone, was more effective than detoxification with counseling, for fifteen to twenty one year old opioid addicts. (5)
No medication other than methadone was recommended for pregnant, opioid dependent women. (6)
Be aware that it is possible to withdraw from opioids. You may become relatively pain free, without taking any opiods or any other medication, as the human body can produce its own, natural pain medication.
Consider your options and accept the challenge. You will succeed in overcoming your opioid dependency and be able to claim your life back.
4. Op. cit. Opioids