What should I know about narcotic analgesics?

Narcotics are very powerful pain relievers. They are based on drugs that originally came from the seed of the opium poppy. They are used to treat severe migraine and cluster headaches. They can relieve very severe pain, but they carry the threat of dependence and addiction.

These medicines may be used alone or in combination with aspirin or acetaminophen. When they are used in hospital emergency rooms, they may be combined with medicines called antiemetics that control nausea and vomiting. Codeine is the most commonly used narcotic to treat severe headache pain.


Because these medicines can cause dependence, they are only used to treat people with severe, infrequent headaches that do not respond to other medications.

How do narcotic analgesics work?

These medicines block certain chemical sites in cells that control pain sensations. These sites are in the spinal cord and brain. Because of this blocking action, you do not feel pain, even though the cause of the pain is still there. These medications are effective for moderate to severe pain.

What are the possible side effects from using narcotic analgesics and what should I do about them?

The following side effects are not usually considered serious. Still, you should check with your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • flushing
  • nausea
  • nervousness
  • sedation
  • taste distortion
  • vertigo
  • vomiting

A very serious side effect that can come from using opiate analgesics is circulatory failure. Seek the help of your doctor immediately if any of the following occur:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • fainting
  • palpitations or very fast or slow heartbeat
  • urination problems
  • weakness

What medicines may interact with narcotic analgesics and what other health conditions might create a problem?

Talk with your pharmacist or doctor about possible interactions with narcotic analgesics. You should tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the other medications you are taking. Also tell them about any other medical conditions you have. You need to keep your regular appointments while you are taking these medications so your doctor can monitor your progress.

Taking these medications with any of the following can cause a serious interaction. Before you take a narcotic analgesic, be sure your doctor knows if you are taking:

  • alcohol
  • antidepressants
  • antihistamines
  • barbiturates
  • erythromycin
  • phenytoin
  • seizure medications
  • tranquilizers
  • ulcer medications


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