Long-Acting Opioids: Types, Side Effects, And Risks

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Long-acting opioids are those which do not take effect immediately but which have effects that last much longer. They work well for managing long-term or chronic pain but are also very addictive by nature.

Long-Acting Opioids: Types, Side Effects, And Risks

Prescription opioids can be further classified into two categories: short-acting opioids and long-acting opioids.

Each comes with its own set of pros and cons, however, both are prescribed when relief is needed for moderate to severe pain.

What Are Long-Acting Opioids?

Long-acting opioids are prescription opioids that take longer to take effect but the effects of which last longer.

Oftentimes you will hear this type of opioid medication referred to as an “extended-release” or “controlled release” version.

This type of opioid is generally prescribed for the management of moderate to severe long-term or chronic pain. It is usually administered on an around-the-clock basis to always keep the patient ahead of their pain.

Types Of Long-Acting Opioids

You will find long-acting opioids available in a few different forms, but the most common are tablets, capsules, or transdermal patches.

Long-acting opioids in capsule or tablet form tend to last at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours, while transdermal patches can last between three and seven days depending on the type.

Commonly prescribed long-acting opioids include:

You may see the same prescription opioids available in both short-acting and long-acting versions.

This gives physicians a choice when prescribing pain medication based on the type of pain and what would be best for the patient.

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Side Effects Of Long-Acting Opioids

While long-acting opioids can be extremely useful when treating and managing severe pain, they do not come without some uncomfortable side effects.

Short-term side effects of long-acting opioids include:

  • constipation
  • trouble urinating
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in sex
  • lightheadedness

Long-acting opioids also tend to be a top choice when treating chronic pain such as occurs with cancer patients, so it is important to be aware of long-term side effects as well.

Long-term side effects of long-acting opioids include:

  • osteoporosis
  • sleep apnea
  • increased pain sensitivity
  • low libido
  • substance use disorders and addiction

Long-acting opioids do possess some very serious risks, but their medical benefits are still considered to outweigh any negative side effects.

Risks Of Long-Acting Opioids

Long-acting opioids tend to be abused less in general than short-acting opioids, but this does not mean that they come without risks. Like all opioids, they tend to create a sense of pleasurable euphoria that can be very addictive in nature.

When opioids are taken over an extended period of time, the body will start to produce less and less of its natural endogenous opioids, or endorphins.

Because of this, individuals may find themselves becoming dependent on their prescription opioids in order to feel normal.

Finding Addiction Treatment For Opioids

Are you or a loved one currently struggling with opioid addiction or substance abuse of any kind? Even if you simply have questions about substance abuse or addiction to long-acting opioids, we are here to help.

Give our helpline a call and we can answer any questions that you have as well as help you find an addiction treatment center in your area. Please do not hesitate — recovery is possible.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

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