Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited disorder of hemoglobin structure. The clinical effects of the sickle gene are pleiotropic in nature causing multiple phenotypic expressions associated with the various complications of the disease. The hallmark of the disease is pain that could be acute, chronic, nociceptive, or neuropathic that could occur singly or in various combinations. The acute vaso-occlusive painful crisis (VOC) is the most common cause of admissions to the Emergency Department and/or the hospital. Although progress has been made in understanding the pathophysiology of SCD as well as in developing preventive and curative therapies, effective pain management continues to lag behind and depend mostly on the use of opioids. This review describes the history of opioids from the ancient times of opium to the current use of the many controversial opioids. In addition, the major cause of death of patients with SCD is the complications of the disease itself and not the use of opioids. The use of opioids by patients with SCD has been stable over the years. Judicious use of opioids to treat sickle cell pain according to available guidelines could minimize the unnecessary suffering experienced by patients with SCD.
Recommended CitationBallas, Samir K., "Opioids and Sickle Cell Disease: From Opium to the Opioid Epidemic." (2021). Cardeza Foundation for Hematologic Research. Paper 67.
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