Opioids are derived from opium. They cause pain relief. Opioids include both legal and illegal substances. Opioids can be.

  • Like morphine, it is naturally occurring.
  • Like a drug called oxycodone.
  • synthetic like Fentanyl.

Moderate to severe pain is usually treated when prescribed. They can cause a high.

You can take prescription drugs or get them in a pill form. Both methods have risks. IV use puts the drug into your bloodstream, which may heightens the effects.

The benefits and risks of IV opiate use are discussed in this article.

IV opioids are not usually the first choice in many situations. If there are no other options for administering the drug, they may be necessary. You might receive the drug by IV.

  • Sedation: Hospitals may use IV opioids as a component of anesthesia for surgery.
  • Post-operation: While in hospital, you may receive opioids by IV to help with pain management.
  • Emergencies: If you show up to the emergency department in acute pain, depending on your condition, you may receive IV opioids, like morphine, while waiting. This is especially true for people with cancer.
  • Malabsorption: If someone cannot absorb nutrients or medication because of gastrointestinal absorption issues, IV medication, including opioids, is an option.

The Society of Hospital Medicine suggests that healthcare teams only administer opioids by IV in cases where someone can’t take food or medication by mouth or if there’s a need for immediate pain control. Opioids start working about three times as quickly when given by IV compared with orally.

Almost all opioids are available intravenously. A 2018 study found that the four main opioids used in hospitals for the treatment of acute pain in the emergency department were:

Opioids carry with them serious risks. Common concerns include:

  • Your body may need more to get the same effect, as it gets used to the dosage.
  • physical dependence (symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking it)
  • overdose

Significant side effects can also occur. These include:

  • It is a problem of the colon.
  • nausea, vomiting, dry mouth
  • Depression.
  • It is too sleepy.
  • testosterone was lowered.
  • delirium
  • It is itching or sweating.

In a 2015 study, adverse side effects were more common in people who received opioids by IV compared to other methods.

There are additional risks with IV opioids.

IV opioid use is also more prone to medication error. A 2019 study of a cancer care center in Texas found that more than half of the nurses had administered IV opioids too quickly.

You may have concerns about opioid use disorder (OUD), but this is extremely unlikely from short-term IV opioid use. OUD develops over prolonged opioid use.

Since IV opioids start to work much faster, they have a stronger effect on your brain’s reward system and can increase your risk of OUD. But this is very unlikely in a hospital setting. It’s more likely if you use IV opioids, like heroin, on your own.

It is important to critically evaluate whether IV opiate use is necessary and whether it is the best course of action. Alternative treatments can be used to reduce the amount of opioids given while still adequately managing pain.

There are alternatives your doctor can use if you are getting IV opioids.

  • Oral: Taking opioids by mouth is the preferred method in most cases. While it has a lower risk of adverse effects, it’s also a slower delivery method than IV. The slower absorption into the bloodstream slightly reduces the “high.”
  • Subcutaneous: Opioids can be injected under your skin rather than directly into your veins. Doctors often see this as a middle ground between oral and IV use. A 2018 study recommends subcutaneous use if oral use is not a possibility.
  • Transdermal: Some opioids, like fentanyl and buprenorphine, are available as a patch you wear on your skin. A 2017 study concluded that transdermal opioids were safe and effective in managing pain among people with cancer.
  • Intranasal: A small 2020 study found that fentanyl taken as a nasal spray may be just as effective in treating pain in cancer patients as IV hydromorphone.

In some cases, your doctor may prefer to use NSAIDs. While they’re less effective initially than opioids, they have an equal effect to opioids within 20 to 30 minutes. But these drugs can affect the GI system and the kidneys, limiting their use.

Other possible alternatives include:

Discuss with your healthcare team what options are best for you.

Even if you are just trying to get clarification or better understand your treatment, it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor. Questions about the drug can be asked.

  • Why do I need this drug in the first place?
  • How long will I be on this?
  • How can I minimize the risks?
  • What if I have a history of drug use?
  • Are there any other treatments?

If you have lived with or have been affected by OUD, talk to your healthcare team about your comfort. Everyone has different levels of comfort with this topic and so giving as much information as possible is always safest.

Support for people with opioid use disorder

If you need extra support or recovery resources, check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 800-662-HELP(4357).

The number for the hearing loss hotline is 800-447-4889.

“Opioids are powerful pain-relief medications, but they can also be used for misuse and have the potential for addiction. When you receive opioids in a way that increases the risk, it’s higher.”

IV opioids are used in certain situations, like during or after surgery, or if someone cannot take medication by mouth for any reason.

There is a low risk of addiction after short-term IV use. If this is a concern for you, talk to your healthcare team.

Discussing options with your healthcare team can help minimize the risks of overdose. You can ask questions so you can be informed about your treatment.