Opioid dependence can begin as early as the first five days of use. This is what a recently published study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report has revealed.
What Are Opioids?
Opioid painkillers work by binding to the opioid receptors in the body - for example, in the brain and spinal cord - and inhibiting the pain signals.
Doctors typically prescribe opioids to patients who have gone through surgical procedures or who are suffering from injuries and certain diseases, such as cancer. However, the use of opioids to address back pain and osteoarthritis has significantly increased in recent years, despite its risk of dependence and other serious side effects.
In the latest CDC report, researchers suggest that there is a sharp increase in the likelihood of patients getting hooked on opioid medications and using them long term if they are advised by their doctors to use it for more than five days. The odds of addiction go higher in patients who were put on a 30-day supply of opioid painkillers.
"The chances of long-term opioid use, use that lasts one year or more, start increasing with each additional day supplied, starting after the third day, and increase substantially after someone is prescribed five or more days, and especially after someone is prescribed one month of opioid therapy," Bradley Martin of the University of Arkansas, Medical Sciences and a senior author of the study, explained.
Long-Acting Opioid Drugs Pose Higher Risks
According to the study, patients who were initially prescribed a strong, long-acting opioid drug have higher risks of staying on it longer. About one in four patients continues opioid use one year after being initially prescribed a long-acting opioid, and one in five was still on opioids three years later.
The researchers emphasized that health care practitioners and pharmacists play a pivotal role in this scenario, adding that prescribing fewer opioids for a shorter time in the initial prescription may help reduce the risk of chronic opioid use in patients.
Today, the most commonly prescribed opioid drugs include fentanyl, codeine, hydrocodone, methadone, oxymorphone, meperidine, and oxycodone.
Opioid Drug Fentanyl Banned By United Nations
Last March 16, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, headquartered in Vienna, Austria, announced that it's putting fentanyl chemical ingredients and a fentanyl analogue under its international list of controlled substances.
Fentanyl is a super potent synthetic opioid that can be 80 to 500 times stronger than morphine.
"Fentanyl is a good medicine, but a bad drug. It has excellent pain relieving properties, but is liable to abuse and can rapidly lead to dependency," U.N. CND Laboratory and Scientific Section Chief Justice Tettey said in an official statement.