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These medicines have been around for over three thousand years. . They are usually
thought of as either weak or strong (see some examples below)
Weak Opioids Strong Opioids
Usually weak opioids are prescribed for mild pain. Codeine is often prescribed with
Paracetamol which can improve its pain relief. Codeine is actually changed by the
liver into small doses of morphine which gives its effect. About one in ten people
in the UK can’t convert Codeine in this way (because they don’t have the chemical
necessary in the liver), so Codeine does not work for them.
Strong opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain. Up until fairly recently
this was either resulting from surgery, injury or cancer, but now strong opioids
are increasingly being used to treat chronic pain. The most common strong opioid
is Morphine, which is found in some types of poppy plant. The plant is collected,
refined and made into medicine. Most of the other strong opioids are either a variation
of morphine (semi-synthetic) or made from scratch (fully synthetic). This is important
as they behave differently in the body depending on how they are made. Some are
able to be put into a patch (which gradually dissolves the drug through the skin),
and some need to be taken by mouth or injection.