People who use opioids on a chronic basis are almost certain to experience at least one side effect (96% of chronic opioid users report at least 1 side effect). A 2013 study found that long-term use of opioids in males were significantly more likely to use treatments for erectile dysfunction and hormone replacement as compared to men who did not use opioids.
The study found that nearly 20 percent of patients receiving high-dose/long-term opioids had evidence of sexual dysfunction. Researchers concluded that prescriptions for erectile dysfunction or testosterone replacement increased significantly with opioid use (especially in relation to increasing dose & duration).
One mechanism that is likely driving the link behind opioids and erectile dysfunction has to do with an opioid’s ability to suppress the systems of the body responsible for producing hormones. Ultimately, opioids can inhibit the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which in turn decreases luteinizing hormone levels that are needed to produce sufficient testosterone levels (which can then lead to sexual dysfunction in males).
“Opioid-induced endocrinopathy is one of the most common yet least often diagnosed consequences of prolonged opioid therapy. Opioids used on a daily basis for more than a month have a number of adverse effects on human endocrine function,” said David Silver, MD a practicing rheumatologist and former director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Center as Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. According to Dr. Silver, “Opioids can be a useful component for the treatment of pain for certain patients if managed very careful, but may cause more risks than benefits especially with long-term use.”
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Marcus has over a decade of experience in the medical foods and dietary supplement industry and currently serves as Managing Director for Physician Therapeutics.