Pain treatment is an integral part of the treatment of cancer patients. Currently, there are many drugs aimed at its relief or complete elimination. Most cancer patients at the various stages of treatment develop an unpleasant or painful sensation, which, especially in the later stages of the disease, may require the appointment of potent painkillers, including opioid analgesics. The purpose of these drugs is not to treat the disease, but to improve the quality of life of patients and eliminate pain.
As a rule, the need for prescribing opioid drugs arises in cases where conventional painkillers (also called “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs”) cannot completely relieve pain and improve the patient’s condition. When used correctly, painkillers help the patient significantly improve their daily activity and return to normal life. However, their use, especially if used improperly, may be associated with a risk of side effects, which, in some cases, pose a threat to the patient’s life.
If you have severe pain, tell your doctor about this as he is the one who can best understand it. Try to provide him with the most complete information regarding the severity of pain, its duration and nature (persistent pain or occasionally occurring), as well as which drugs you are currently using to control pain. Hiding the pain areas will only deteriorate your condition.
Possible side effects of opioid medications
Like any other medication, potent painkillers can cause a number of side effects. A complete list of them is presented in the instructions for medical use, for this reason, before using such drugs, you should definitely familiarize yourself with the instructions. The most common side effects are:
Constipation: occurs due to suppression of intestinal motility, their development is observed in 90% of patients receiving treatment with opioid painkillers. For this reason, laxatives are recommended during the entire period of analgesic therapy using opioid analgesics;
Nausea and vomiting: more often develops in the first few days of therapy as a temporary side effect of pain medication. The duration of this side effect, as a rule, does not exceed 2 weeks. Antiemetic drugs are used to correct nausea and vomiting;
Drowsiness, weakness, and dizziness: potent painkillers can have a negative effect on the central nervous system. The risk of developing these side effects is higher, while taking other drugs that cause drowsiness. The patient might develop slight migraines hence it is recommended to have prescriptions from a reputed doctor.
Ask your doctor about what measures should be taken to prevent and stop the occurring side effects. Take the drug in full accordance with the recommendations of your doctor. If the prescribed dose is not effective enough and you still feel pain – do not take the extra dose yourself – consult your doctor. The occurrence of side effects should be reported to your doctor, who can recommend you to change the frequency of administration or dose of the drug or replace it with an alternative medicine.
Interaction with other medicines
It is important to tell your healthcare provider about all medications you are taking, especially those that are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, or seizures. The simultaneous use of opioid drugs and other drugs, especially those affecting the central nervous system, can dramatically increase the risk of side effects.
Storage of pain medication
Painkillers should be stored out of the reach of children. If you have children at home, it may be useful to store them in a special lockable box. A child accidentally taking a dose of an opioid analgesic intended for an adult can lead to severe overdose and death.
Difficulties with prescribing pain medications to cancer patients
Pain is a manifestation of cancer that cannot be tolerated and must be treated. Currently, federal and regional authorities are taking measures aimed at improving the availability of potent drugs for patients in need of their prescription at major the US compounding pharmacy stores.
Peter Beaumont is a senior reporter on the Guardian’s Global Development desk. He has reported extensively from conflict zones including Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and is the author of The Secret Life of War: Journeys Through Modern Conflict. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org