Health Guide
Drug Guide

Narcotic analgesics


FOR PAIN RELIEF (Oral route, Parenteral route, Rectal route)

Brand Names:

Dosage Forms:

Uses of This Medicine:

Narcotic analgesics are used to relieve pain. Some of these medicines are also used just before or during an operation to help the anesthetic work better. Codeine and hydrocodone are also used to relieve coughing. Methadone is also used to help some people control their dependence on heroin or other narcotics. Narcotic analgesics may also be used for other conditions as determined by your doctor.

Narcotic analgesics act in the central nervous system (CNS) to relieve pain. Some of their side effects are also caused by actions in the CNS.

If a narcotic is used for a long time, it may become habit-forming (causing mental or physical dependence). Physical dependence may lead to withdrawal side effects when you stop taking the medicine.

These medicines are available only with your medical doctor's or dentist's prescription. For some of them, prescriptions cannot be refilled and you must obtain a new prescription from your medical doctor or dentist each time you need the medicine. In addition, other rules and regulations may apply when methadone is used to treat narcotic dependence.

These medicines are available only with your doctor's prescription.

Once a medicine has been approved for marketing for a certain use, experience may show that it is also useful for other medical problems. Although not specifically included in product labeling, morphine by injection is used in certain patients with the following medical conditions:

Before Using This Medicine:


Tell your doctor if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to medicines in this group or any other medicines. Also tell your health care professional if you have any other types of allergies, such as to foods dyes, preservatives, or animals. For non-prescription products, read the label or package ingredients carefully.


Breathing problems may be especially likely to occur in children younger than 2 years of age. These children are usually more sensitive than adults to the effects of narcotic analgesics. Also, unusual excitement or restlessness may be more likely to occur in children receiving these medicines. Hydromorphone extended-release capsules should not be used in children younger than 18 years of age.

Older adults

Elderly people are especially sensitive to the effects of narcotic analgesics. This may increase the chance of side effects, especially breathing problems, during treatment.


Although studies on birth defects with narcotic analgesics have not been done in pregnant women, these medicines have not been reported to cause birth defects. However, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and morphine caused birth defects in animals when given in very large doses. Buprenorphine and codeine did not cause birth defects in animal studies, but they caused other unwanted effects. Butorphanol, nalbuphine, pentazocine, and propoxyphene did not cause birth defects in animals. There is no information about whether other narcotic analgesics cause birth defects in animals.

Too much use of a narcotic during pregnancy may cause the baby to become dependent on the medicine. This may lead to withdrawal side effects after birth. Also, some of these medicines may cause breathing problems in the newborn infant if taken just before delivery.


Most narcotic analgesics have not been reported to cause problems in nursing babies.

Other medicines

Using medicines in this class with any of the following medicines is not recommended. Your doctor may decide not to treat you with a medication in this class or change some of the other medicines you take.

Using medicines in this class with any of the following medicines is usually not recommended, but may be required in some cases. If both medicines are prescribed together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use one or both of the medicines.

Other interactions

Certain medicines should not be used at or around the time of eating food or eating certain types of food since interactions may occur. Using alcohol or tobacco with certain medicines may also cause interactions to occur. The following interactions have been selected on the basis of their potential significance and are not necessarily all-inclusive.

Using medicines in this class with any of the following is usually not recommended, but may be unavoidable in some cases. If used together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use your medicine, or give you special instructions about the use of food, alcohol, or tobacco.

Other medical problems

The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of medicines in this class. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:

Proper Use of This Medicine:

Some narcotic analgesics given by injection may be given at home to patients who do not need to be in the hospital. If you are using an injection form of this medicine at home, make sure you clearly understand and carefully follow your doctor's instructions.

To take long-acting hydromorphone capsules:

To take the syrup form of meperidine:

To take the oral liquid forms of methadone

To take the dispersible tablet form of methadone:

To take oral liquid forms of morphine:

To take long-acting morphine and oxycodone tablets:

To take long-acting morphine capsules:

To use suppositories:

Take this medicine only as directed by your medical doctor or dentist. Do not take more of it, do not take it more often, and do not take it for a longer time than your medical doctor or dentist ordered. This is especially important for young children and elderly patients, who are especially sensitive to the effects of narcotic analgesics. If too much is taken, the medicine may become habit-forming (causing mental or physical dependence) or lead to medical problems because of an overdose.

If you think this medicine is not working properly after you have been taking it for a few weeks, do not increase the dose. Instead, check with your doctor.


The dose medicines in this class will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of these medicines. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

Missed dose

If you miss a dose of this medicine, take it as soon as possible. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and go back to your regular dosing schedule. Do not double doses.


Keep out of the reach of children.

Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep from freezing.

Do not keep outdated medicine or medicine no longer needed.

Store hydromorphone, oxycodone, or oxymorphone suppositories in the refrigerator.

Destroy any medicine that you do not need by flushing it down the toilet.

Precautions While Using This Medicine:

If you will be taking this medicine for a long time (for example, for several months at a time), your doctor should check your progress at regular visits

For patients taking a codeine-containing medicine or any other narcotic analgesic:

For nursing mothers taking a codeine-containing medicine or any other narcotic analgesic:

Narcotic analgesics will add to the effects of alcohol and other central nervous system (CNS) depressants (medicines that slow down the nervous system, possibly causing drowsiness). Some examples of CNS depressants are antihistamines or medicine for hay fever, other allergies, or colds; sedatives, tranquilizers, or sleeping medicine; other prescription pain medicines including other narcotics; barbiturates; medicine for seizures; muscle relaxants; or anesthetics, including some dental anesthetics. Do not drink alcoholic beverages, and check with your medical doctor or dentist before taking any of the medicines listed above, while you are using this medicine.

This medicine may cause some people to become drowsy, dizzy, or lightheaded, or to feel a false sense of well-being. Make sure you know how you react to this medicine before you drive, use machines, or do anything else that could be dangerous if you are dizzy or are not alert and clearheaded.

Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting may occur, especially when you get up suddenly from a lying or sitting position. Getting up slowly may help lessen this problem.

Nausea or vomiting may occur, especially after the first couple of doses. This effect may go away if you lie down for a while. However, if nausea or vomiting continues, check with your medical doctor or dentist. Lying down for a while may also help relieve some other side effects, such as dizziness or light-headedness, that may occur.

Before having any kind of surgery (including dental surgery) or emergency treatment, tell the medical doctor or dentist in charge that you are taking this medicine.

Narcotic analgesics may cause dryness of the mouth. For temporary relief, use sugarless candy or gum, melt bits of ice in your mouth, or use a saliva substitute. However, if dry mouth continues for more than 2 weeks, check with your dentist. Continuing dryness of the mouth may increase the chance of dental disease, including tooth decay, gum disease, and fungus infections.

If you have been taking this medicine regularly for several weeks or more, do not suddenly stop using it without first checking with your doctor. Your doctor may want you to reduce gradually the amount you are taking before stopping completely, in order to lessen the chance of withdrawal side effects.

If you think you or someone else may have taken an overdose, get emergency help at once. Taking an overdose of this medicine or taking alcohol or CNS depressants with this medicine may lead to unconsciousness or death. Signs of overdose include convulsions (seizures), confusion, severe nervousness or restlessness, severe dizziness, severe drowsiness, slow or troubled breathing, and severe weakness.

Side Effects of This Medicine:

Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.

Get emergency help immediately if any of the following symptoms of overdose occur:

Cold, clammy skin
convulsions (seizures)
dizziness (severe)
drowsiness (severe)
low blood pressure
nervousness or restlessness (severe)
pinpoint pupils of eyes
slow heartbeat
slow or troubled breathing
weakness (severe)

If you are a nursing mother and you notice any of the following symptoms of overdose in your baby, get emergency help immediately:

Difficulty breathing
difficulty nursing
increased sleepiness (more than usual)

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

Less common or rare
Dark urine (for propoxyphene only)
fast, slow, or pounding heartbeat
feelings of unreality
hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
hives, itching, or skin rash
increased sweating (more common with hydrocodone, meperidine, and methadone)
irregular breathing
mental depression or other mood or mental changes
pale stools (for propoxyphene only)
redness or flushing of face (more common with hydrocodone, meperidine, and methadone)
ringing or buzzing in the ears
shortness of breath, wheezing, or troubled breathing
swelling of face
trembling or uncontrolled muscle movements
unusual excitement or restlessness (especially in children)
yellow eyes or skin (for propoxyphene only)

Some side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Also, your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of these side effects. Check with your health care professional if any of the following side effects continue or are bothersome or if you have any questions about them:

More common
Dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint
nausea or vomiting
Less common or rare
Blurred or double vision or other changes in vision
constipation (more common with long-term use and with codeine)
decrease in amount of urine
difficult or painful urination
dry mouth
false sense of well-being
frequent urge to urinate
general feeling of discomfort or illness
loss of appetite
nervousness or restlessness
nightmares or unusual dreams
redness, swelling, pain, or burning at place of injection
stomach cramps or pain
trouble in sleeping
unusual tiredness or weakness

After you stop using this medicine, your body may need time to adjust. The length of time this takes depends on the amount of medicine you were using and how long you used it. During this period of time check with your doctor if you notice any of the following side effects:

Body aches
fast heartbeat
fever, runny nose, or sneezing
increased sweating
increased yawning
loss of appetite
nausea or vomiting
nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
shivering or trembling
stomach cramps
trouble in sleeping
unusually large pupils of eyes

Other side effects not listed may also occur in some patients. If you notice any other effects, check with your healthcare professional.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Last Updated: 6/12/2013

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