Opioid analgesics are prescribed for moderate to severe pain, particularly of visceral origin, and are used in step two and step three of the analgesic ladder. Dependence and tolerance are well-known features with regular use although this should not inhibit prescribing in palliative care. Some chronic non-malignant conditions benefit from analgesic control with opioids, but patients should be reviewed regularly. Opioids are increasingly prescribed for non-cancerous conditions but it may be appropriate to involve a specialist in the decision to prescribe long-term opioids for such conditions.

Analgesic drugs act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous system; they include paracetamol (acetaminophen), the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as the salicylates, narcotic drugs such as morphine, synthetic drugs with narcotic properties such as tramadol, and various others.