It’s not uncommon for long-term, opiate pain medication treatments to loss their effectiveness over time. This known side-effect results from the body’s increased tolerance for an opiate drug’s effects. While the tendency to increase the dosage to compensate for lost effectiveness does work, a person soon finds him or herself increasing the dosage again for the same reason.
Were it not for the encroaching risk of dependency and addiction, dosage increases would work just fine. Treating opiate tolerance as it develops not only improves the drug’s effectiveness but can help reduce the potential for drug dependence and addiction to develop. While treatments for opiate tolerance do exist, opiate’s pervasive effects on chemical processes in the brain and body limit the effectiveness of any one treatment approach.
Because of their unique chemical make-up, opiate medications, in particular, affect and alter fundamental chemical processes throughout the body. Opiate effects on nerve cell receptor sites can eventually replace the body’s normal chemical interactions when used for long periods of time. Ongoing opiate use also impairs how these receptor sites function to the point where opiate tolerance levels continue to rise.
Someone taking opiates to treat a chronic pain condition may experience additional ongoing side effects from taking the drug. Side effects experienced with opiate use include insomnia, nausea, slowed respiratory functions and impaired motor functioning. In cases where side effects start to affect a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, opiate tolerance effects make it necessary to limit a person’s intake. Consequently, a limited dosage level can only provide partial pain relief.
Treatments for opiate tolerance attempt to address the mechanisms directly involved with tolerance level changes. Opiate tolerance treatments also help in reducing the occurrence of side effects, which in turn enables a person to take the dosage levels needed to fully treat pain symptoms.
Opiate Antagonist Treatments
Opiate antagonists are drugs that bind to cell receptor sites without fully activating chemical endorphin secretions. Opiate antagonists also block the effects of other opiate drugs. According to the Journal of Recent Developments in Pain Research, these characteristics make antagonist medications a viable treatment approach for opiate tolerance.
Antagonist medications commonly used to treat opiate tolerance include naloxone and naltrexone. When taking opiates alone, cell receptor site sensitivity drops at a fairly rapid rate. When combined with an antagonist, antagonist drug effects slow the alteration of cell receptor sites which in turn slow opiate tolerance level rates.
As each person’s biochemical make-up responds to different opiate medications in different ways, switching out an existing opiate prescription for a different opiate drug can help reduce opiate tolerance rates. In general, different opiate drugs, such as oxycodone, Demerol and Percodan target different types of nerve receptor cells. Since tolerance develops as receptor sites become desensitized, switching to another drug switches opiate effects to different receptor sites, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As a result, the alternate drug starts fresh with new receptor sites that haven’t undergone tolerance level increases. Opiate switching can also help alleviate adverse side effects caused by an existing prescription drug as different drug types produce different sets of side effects.