Prescription Opioid Fatalities: Examining Why the Healer Could be the Culprit
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© 2018, Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature. Prescription opioid use has increased rapidly in developed countries, as have fatalities and other related adverse events. This review examines the intrinsic characteristics of opioids, including their mechanisms of action and pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties, to determine how the use of a regonised pharmacological remedy for a medically confirmed ailment could result in an accidental fatality. Opioids trigger biological processes that inhibit their own therapeutic effect. Prolonged use of opioids can result in activation of pronociceptive systems, leading to opioid-induced hyperalgesia and tolerance, while opioid metabolites can antagonise the antinociceptive action of the parent drug, also leading to opioid-induced hyperalgesia and tolerance. Pain stimulates respiration and counteracts the respiratory depression effect of opioids. Analgesia from opioids leads to loss of this protective mechanism, leading to increased risk of death due to respiratory failure. Increased patient counseling during opioid prescribing and dispensing, and limiting prescription to short-term use in non-malignant pain, may decrease the adverse effects of opioids. The vast majority of patients who unintentionally experience serious adverse events from pharmaceutical opioids do not start out as drug seekers. Even opioid use within prescribing guidelines can place some patients at risk of death and may prevent patients from seeking help for prescription opioid dependence.
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