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What does it mean to be opioid-naive?

“Opioid naive” is a term used to describe an individual who has not used opioids consistently in the past.

Opioid naive individuals may experience stronger effects of opioids and sometimes worse side effects of opioids because their bodies are not used to them. In contrast, patients who are “opioid experienced” often have more of a tolerance to opioids, both to their analgesic properties as well as to their side effects.

Opioid tolerance

Tolerance is the ability to “tolerate” higher doses of opioids over time with fewer side effects because the body gets accustomed to the opioid medications. Most patients build a tolerance to many different medications the longer we take them, but this is particularly true with opioids.

Tolerance means that when we are used to taking a certain dose of an opioid to achieve a certain amount of euphoria or pain control, we may eventually need to take even higher doses to obtain the same effects. Increasing tolerance leads some individuals to take higher doses which can also put them at risk for opioid overdose. 

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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