Some prescription painkillers, also known as opioid narcotics, can be effective for patients dealing with short-term pain. For example, opioids are often used for pain following a surgery or for traumatic injuries such as you might sustain in a car accident or fall. This is called “acute pain.”
However, only certain opioids are appropriate for the treatment of acute pain. Examples of opioids appropriate for this indication include hydrocodone (Vicodin) and Meperidine (Demerol). These are short acting opioids (i.e., they are quickly metabolized and eliminated by the body).
Other opioids are long acting opioids (i.e., sustained release opioids) and should not be used for acute pain. Examples of these long acting opioids include Dolophine (methadone), Duragesic (fentanyl), Avinza (morphine) and OxyContin (oxycodone). These medications continue to release the drug into the blood long after it is taken.
Long acting opioids should not be used for acute pain because acute pain by its nature is not stable. If someone is in pain, that pain blocks respiratory depression. In other words, a patient can tolerate a much higher level of opioid in their system without suffering respiratory depression if they are in severe pain.
However, if that pain resolves, then the opioid in their system may cause respiratory depression. Thus, it is very dangerous to have an opioid in an acute pain patient’s system that is a sustained release or long acting opioid because the drug may be released into the blood at a time when the patient’s pain has resolved.
Without the pain which had previously been preventing respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and death may occur. Prescribing long acting opioids for acute pain has resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Patients who have suffered an overdose after being improperly prescribed opioid painkillers may be eligible to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation to find out if you are eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located on this page.