Narcotic painkillers

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Narcotic painkillers


Generic NameBrand Name

Hydrocodone is available as tablets, capsules, or syrups. It is sometimes combined with other medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Generic NameBrand Name

Hydromorphone is available as an intramuscular (IM) injection, tablet, suppository, or oral liquid. It is sometimes combined with other medicines such as codeine, acetaminophen, or ASA.

Generic NameBrand Name

Methadone is available as pills or as a liquid that you swallow. It is also given as a shot.

Generic Name

Morphine is available as pills or as rectal suppositories. It is also given as a shot or intravenously. Pills such as M-Eslon supply a controlled release of morphine.

Generic NameBrand Name
oxycodoneOxyContin, Percocet

Oxycodone is available as pills, controlled-release tablets, or a liquid that you swallow. It is sometimes combined with acetaminophen or ASA.

Narcotic drugs are also called narcotics, opiates, or opioids.

How It Works

Narcotic painkillers act upon specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord to ease pain and reduce your emotional response to pain.

Why It Is Used

Narcotic painkillers are used to ease pain caused by surgery, accident or injury, or chronic illness such as cancer.

Methadone also is used to treat addiction to opiates, such as heroin.

Hydrocodone also is used to control coughing.

How Well It Works

These drugs effectively manage pain.1

As a treatment for opiate addiction, methadone is effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Hydrocodone effectively controls cough.

Side Effects

Narcotic painkillers cause many side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Feelings of elation (euphoria).
  • Dry mouth.
  • Difficulty urinating.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Constipation, which may be severe.
    • Talk to your doctor about using laxatives to prevent constipation.
    • You can prevent constipation at home. Make sure you drink enough fluids. Most adults should drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water or non-caffeinated beverages each day. Include fruits, vegetables, and fibre in your diet each day.
  • Skin reactions, such as irritation, itching, or hives.

Narcotic drugs affect breathing and should be used with caution by older adults and people who have lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. A narcotic can cause your body to expect the drug daily. This is called drug dependency. Dependency is not the same as addiction, which is a behavioural disorder marked by craving a drug.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Narcotics may affect your balance, coordination, and your ability to think. Do not drive or operate any type of equipment if you are taking a narcotic painkiller.

Do not drink alcohol or use other drugs while you are taking a narcotic painkiller.

Narcotics can interact with many other drugs. Make sure that your doctor knows all the drugs you are taking.

Narcotics can also contain medicines like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil). If you are taking a narcotic, talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines. You want to be sure you don’t get too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Narcotics should be used with caution after a head injury.

Narcotics should be used during pregnancy only if the benefits to the mother outweigh the risks to the fetus. These drugs can pass through your body in breast milk and should not be used while you are breast-feeding.

Sometimes a narcotic painkiller is combined with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ASA. If that is true in your case, do not take more acetaminophen or ASA unless your doctor tells you to.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. National Cancer Institute (2009). Pain PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Last Revised February 1, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.