Harvard Health Letter

New caution about opioids

The pendulum is swinging back to more caution and restrictions on long-term use of these powerful pain relievers.

For years, there was great reluctance to use opioid pain relievers like morphine to treat pain, unless it was for a very short period or the person had a terminal disease, usually cancer — and even then there were misgivings. Both doctors and patients worried about addiction and side effects, especially the consequences these drugs sometimes have on mood and thinking. Laws and regulations made it difficult for doctors to prescribe opioids, which in a legal context are called narcotics. The legalities reinforced fears and negative connotations.

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