When it comes to discussions about addiction and drugs, people tend to bring up the more ‘popular’ drugs. Substances such as marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin – they tend to get more media coverage. At the same time, though, there’s a whole other crisis going on that seems to get shoved under the rug – opioid addiction. There’s one prescription painkiller, however, that Northern Ireland’s state pathologist Professor Jack Crane says has “[claimed] more lives than any other drug – including heroin and cocaine.” It’s called Tramadol.
What is Tramadol?
If you haven’t heard of its generic name, you may be familiar with the brand names Ultram or ConZip. The prescription medication works like a narcotic and is mainly used to help relieve moderate to moderately severe pain.[2,3]
What It Does
It’s most often prescribed after surgery and comes in an extended-release form to treat ongoing chronic pain. When you take Tramadol, it works in your brain targeting the central nervous system specifically to alter how your body both feels and responds to pain.
Ideally, the painkiller doesn’t cause severe harm so long as you take it according to you doctor’s recommendations. What many people do, unfortunately, is take it in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Last year in Northern Ireland, doctors linked thirty-three deaths to Tramadol.
“I don’t think that people realize how potentially risky taking tramadol is,” Crane expressed. “I think it’s because it’s a prescription drug – people assume it’s safe.”
It is this very assumption that people must be wearier of and diligent about. It’s easy to take a pill with pain relief being the only thing someone’s mind. But reading the side effects may make them think twice.
Tramadol’s Side Effects
Many people who take this medication tend not to have serious side effects, according to WebMD. But there’s a reason it’s popping up in medical circles as a problem. Some of these (more serious) side effects can include:
Light-headedness, dizziness, or drowsiness
Agitation or confusion
Severe stomach or abdominal pain
Depleted adrenal glands
Loss of appetite
Sudden weight loss
Rashes, itching, or swelling
Slow or shallow breathing
In addition to this lengthy list of eye-opening side effects, many people are also concerned about people taking incorrect tramadol dosages and at high rates. As a result, a few unfortunate things are occurring:[5,6]
Patients are becoming addicted to the narcotic-like pain reliever. Structurally, Tramadol is similar to that of codeine and morphine. If taken incorrectly or too much, they can form both a physical and psychological dependence. Since it’s habit-forming, anyone currently on shouldn’t quit ‘cold turkey’ and should speak to their doctor before making any decisions.
Patients are suffering from dangerous drug interactions. As mentioned earlier, many unfortunate outcomes come as a result of using this drug in combination with other substances. As a rule of thumb, no one should ever take Tramadol if they’ve already used or plan on using alcohol (especially), sedatives, tranquilizers, or other narcotic medications.
Drug control is lacking in some countries. Thankfully, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) changed its classification to a schedule IV drug in 2014. Previously, only select states controlled this drug but now it’s a controlled substance in all fifty states.
The Bottom Line
Strong painkillers were never meant for chronic pain. Countries such as the U.S., at least when you look at the laws, should ideally have this opioid crisis under control. But it’s very much alive. Overseas in Northern Ireland, Tramadol was reclassified in 2014 making it illegal without a prescription. Even then, people are finding other means of getting these kinds of drugs. Individuals like Crane are pushing to reclassify the drug again with even stricter limitations. Unfortunately, though, where there’s a will there’s a way.
One of the most frustrating aspects about strong painkillers, especially for people in the medical field, is that they don’t even treat the source of the pain. The best thing you can do before seeking strong painkillers like Tramadol for pain is look more into:
At the end of the day, you do have more than one way to treat pain and you’ll be better for knowing how to find relief with effective drug-free options.