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Short-Term Opioids For Pain Still Come With Side Effects

July 23, 2019

By Tamara Mathias

(Reuters Health) - Patients who only briefly take opioid painkillers are still likely to face side effects, a new study shows.

Dr. Raoul Daoust of Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal and colleagues studied 386 adults who had been discharged from an emergency department with an opioid prescription, 80% of whom took at least one pill.

More than half the patients who used opioids reported feeling drowsy. Patients also reported side effects like constipation, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting.

Overall, 79% of patients who used the painkillers said they experienced side effects that can be related to these drugs, compared to just 38% of patients who did not use opioids.

The type of opioid being used seemed to affect patients differently. Dizziness, nausea and vomiting were more often associated with oxycodone than morphine, for example.

Opioid-induced constipation was a particularly persistent problem in the new study.

"It was surprising to find that 38% of patients had constipation while consuming only a median of 10 morphine 5 mg pills during the first two weeks," Daoust told Reuters Health in an email.

The study, published online June 3 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, also found that older patients were more likely to experience constipation as a side effect.

Dr. Benjamin Friedman, a professor of emergency medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York who was not involved in the new study, said certain people become habituated to some side effects over time, like drowsiness or dizziness.

But this is unlikely to be the case with constipation, Friedman said.

Despite the risks and the side effects, Daoust believes that opioids should not be avoided entirely.

Instead, he says, patients must be properly informed of the side effects they are likely to face and given advice on how to manage them, such as avoiding driving because of possible drowsiness, or taking laxatives to manage constipation.


Am J Emerg Med 2019.

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