Drug that relieves pain without blocking nerve impulse conduction or markedly altering sensory function (see nervous system). Two classes are defined by the type of pain-relieving action. Opioids (opiates and synthetic narcotics; see opium) act on brain receptors to inhibit pain impulses. They may be used for short- or long-term pain relief, usually by prescription, but carry a risk of drug addiction. Nonopioids, used mostly for short-term relief and modest pain, are available without prescription. They include NSAIDs (including aspirin and ibuprofen) and acetaminophen; all act by inhibiting synthesis of prostaglandins, molecules involved in the peripheral perception of pain.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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