How Do Opioid Combo Analgesics Work?

Reviewed on 6/23/2021

What are opioid combo analgesics and how do they work?

Opioid combo analgesics are systemic medications prescribed for management of acute and moderate to severe pain. Opioid medications are combined with pain relievers (analgesics) such as acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine and/or barbiturates. Opioid combos are typically used to manage severe pain when alternative treatments are inadequate.

Opioids block transmission of pain perception in the brain by binding to opiate receptors. Opiate receptors are protein molecules on nerve cell (neuron) membranes in the brain. Modulating sensory perception is one of the functions of opiate receptors.

Analgesics such as aspirin and acetaminophen work on the hypothalamus region of the brain to reduce fever and relieve pain. Caffeine constricts cerebral blood vessels, which can relieve pain. Caffeine also stimulates the brain’s respiratory drive, improving oxygen inflow. Muscle relaxers may be added to drug formulations to treat musculoskeletal pain.

Barbiturates are sedatives that relieve pain by suppressing the central nervous system and slowing down activity in many regions of the brain. Opioids and barbiturates must be used with great caution because they have a high risk for addiction.

How are opioid combo analgesics used?

Opioid combo analgesics are oral tablets, capsules or solutions usually prescribed for short periods to manage acute, moderate to severe pain. Opioid suppositories may be used to treat pain from ureteral spasms that does not respond to nonopioid analgesics.

Opioid combos should be used with caution in patients with kidney or liver impairment. Opioid combos are typically tapered before weaning off and not abruptly discontinued. Opioid overdose can have severe consequences, and naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid effects, is used in case of opioid overdose.

Opioid combo analgesics are used in the management of:

  • Acute severe pain
  • Acute short-term pain
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Intermittent or breakthrough pain
  • Ureteral spasm pain
  • Tension headaches
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Cough (off-label)


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What are the side effects of opioid combo analgesics?

Side effects of opioid combo analgesics may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of some opioid combo analgesic drugs?

Generic and brand names of opioid combo analgesic drugs include:


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