Analgesics (pain killers)

Analgesics (Paracetamol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Codeine, Tramadol®, Norspan®)

Analgesics (also simply known as pain-killers) are a broad class of medications used to treat the symptoms of pain. They work by dulling or blocking pain signals to the brain, however, they do not change the cause of the pain. They usually come in the form of oral tablets or capsules that can be taken as needed, or as a regular dose (preferably under medical supervision) up to a maximum daily limit.

Common analgesics include paracetamol (Panadol®, Panamax®), ibuprofen (Nurofen®, Brufen®, Nuromol®) and aspirin (Disprin®, Aspro Clear®). These are available over the counter (OTC) through supermarkets or pharmacies.

Some analgesics also have anti-inflammatory properties and are referred to as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Examples of these include meloxicam (Mobic®) and celecoxib (Celebrex®). Aspirin and ibuprofen are also classed as NSAIDs, but paracetamol is not, as it has limited anti-inflammatory benefits.

Paracetamol and aspirin can be combined with various other drugs, such as some opioid products (including Panadeine Forte®) or NSAIDs to increase pain relief or reduce inflammation. Some of these are available over the counter, but many are only available on prescription (including all products containing codeine), due to their strength and increased risks.

Opioids

Opioids (or narcotics) are a type of analgesic naturally derived from the poppy seed plant. Although derivatives such as opium and heroin have long been used for “getting high”, opioids are now only legally available in Australia for medicinal purposes under prescription — usually to treat moderate to severe pain. Codeine can also be used to treat coughs.

Examples of opioid analgesics include:

  • Codeine (Codapane®, Codapane Forte®)
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Pethidine
  • Oxycodone
  • Tramadol hydrochloride (Tramadol®, Zydol®, Tramal®)
  • Buprenorphine (Norspan®)

Codeine and other opioid products are available in different brands, strengths, packs and forms (including tablets, capsules, liquids and topical patches).

Possible Side Effects of Opioids

Side effects of opioids may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • Euphoria

Opioids can be highly addictive, so many doctors prefer to offer alternative analgesic options to their patients first. They also have the potential for accidental misuse due to the sense of confusion and drowsiness they can cause. However, it is possible for those with chronic pain to take regular doses of opioids to help manage their pain, providing their treating doctor is comfortable with this.

This information is part of CreakyJoints Australia’s comprehensive guide for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis. Learn more or download your free copy of Raising the Voice of Patients: A Patient’s Guide to Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis in Australia today.