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Opioid Analgesics Have the Potential to Affect Every Major Body System

| Jul 01, 2015

As previously run in WorkCompWire

Society is aware of the risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, and even death that come with the use of opioid analgesics. The statistics are alarming with 46 people dying from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S. every day. Yet many overlook how chronic pain and opioid analgesics can affect the systems in the body.

  • Respiratory System – Opioid analgesics decrease the brain’s ability to sense high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and diminish the amount of air breathed in by the lungs, leading to the potential complication of respiratory depression, which is the leading cause of death for people who overdose on opioid analgesics.
  • Nervous System – The central nervous system, made up of the brain and spinal cord, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of opioid analgesics. For instance, opioid analgesics have been found to increase the likelihood of either developing depression or further worsening preexisting depression.
  • Skeletal System – Opioid analgesics place patients at a higher risk of bone thinning or osteoporosis by impairing the skeletal systems natural strengthening process and having a direct effect on bone generating cells, called osteoblasts. It also negatively affects the hormones of the body that help regulate bone growth.
  • Muscular System – The fatigue caused from opioid analgesics use can lead to inactivity, which can weaken muscles. Beyond the resultant inactivity, opioid analgesics affect the body’s hormones and can further negatively affect muscle mass and strength.
  • Cardiovascular System – Certain opioid analgesics have been associated with a small increased risk of myocardial infarction or heart attack. The risk of heart attack has also been found to be increased in patients who are taking multiple opioid analgesics.
  • Endocrine System – The endocrine system is comprised of hormones, which as mentioned earlier, can be affected by opioid analgesics leading to bone growth and muscle mass issues.
  • Reproductive System - Due to the effects that opioid analgesics can have on the endocrine system and the body’s hormones, both men and women are at increased risk for reproductive system abnormalities.
  • Digestive System – Some of the most common side effects from opioid analgesics are related to the digestive system, including nausea, vomiting, and constipation. This is caused by opioid analgesics increasing the time it takes food to pass through the stomach.
  • Urinary System – Opioid analgesics can decrease the sensation of a full bladder by limiting the amount of discomfort that is noticed, affecting the patient’s ability to urinate. They can also cause increased resistance to urine flow out of the bladder.

To help further illustrate the impact that opioid analgesics can have on the body’s systems, click here to learn about Anne, a 45-year-old woman who was injured at work. Over the course of her claim, she was prescribed multiple medications, including several opioid analgesics. Her story highlights what can be overlooked in the process of handling a claim and emphasizes the importance of working with a PBM such as Helios.

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