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Meperidine Addiction (Demerol®)

Demerol is a brand-name for the drug meperidine. It is a narcotic analgesic that is very similar to morphine. It can come in tablet form or as a syrup. Demerol can also be injected. It can only be obtained legally with a prescription. Because this is a prescription drug, many initially view it as something that’s “safe” to take. When it is properly prescribed, administered, and monitored by a physician, Demerol can safely provide relief for moderate to severe pain.

However, when it’s taken to excess or in combination with other drugs like alcohol, Demerol abuse can lead to serious physical consequences, including death.

How Meperidine Works

Demerol is a Schedule II narcotic that is commonly prescribed to treat pain, particularly after surgery. Like other narcotics such as OxyContin, cocaine, codeine, and morphine, Demerol carries a high risk of addiction. This opiate can create a dramatic sense of euphoria as it substantially alters the way that the brain deals with pain.

Although Demerol is often compared to morphine, its structural composition is actually quite different from morphine. Demerol actually adjusts how the central nervous system and the spinal cord perceive pain. But, at the very same time, it triggers pleasure centers in the brain. Because it can block pain without affecting the nerve endings, it is very effective in creating a “high” and subsequently an addiction to that elevated mood.

Serious Side Effects of Meperidine (Demerol®)

Demerol can cause more substantial and dangerous side effects than many of the other Schedule II narcotics.

These side effects may include:

  • difficulty in concentrating
  • confusion
  • impaired mental state
  • reduced physical functioning
  • delirium
  • seizures
  • tremors
  • restlessness

Prolonged, excessive Demerol use can even result in kidney failure. Chemical interactions that occur between Demerol and other drugs are taken at the same time can be quite dangerous. For example, the interaction between Demerol and alcohol has proven fatal.

Risk Factors of Demerol

Patients that use Demerol after surgery or serious illness, or to treat ongoing chronic pain, can be at real risk for dependency once they no longer get the same level of relief from the prescribed dosage. Some believe that Demerol is an excessively-prescribed drug. This fact is perhaps related to the reality that it is very common on the street. As a result, it is quite popular among recreational drug users. People that resort to using prescriptions to abuse the drug recreationally are at a very high risk of becoming addicted.

On the street, Demerol is often known as “demmie.” Most recreational abusers of Demerol will crush the drug and then swallow, snort, or inject it. The initial euphoric effects are usually felt just 10 to 15 minutes later. The half-life of the effects are about 2-4 hours.

History Of Demerol

In the 1930s, it was first synthesized as an opium replica that was intended strictly for medical use. During the subsequent decades, it was used mainly in hospitals after surgical procedures. However, it was occasionally prescribed for use at home. In recent decades, there was a concerted effort to switch patients to safer and more effective Schedule II opioids. After medical use of Demerol peaked in the 1980s, its use declined into the 1990s. By the end of the decade, medical use of the drug had declined by about a fourth.

However, at the very same time, non-medical, recreational use of prescription drugs was skyrocketing. In 1998, and an estimated 1.6 million Americans misused such medications. By 2000, that number had risen to nine million.

In 2009, the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that 16 million Americans, ages 12 and up, had taken a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose at least once over the course of the year. Studies of trends indicate that a dramatically increasing percentage of students in high school (grades 9-12) had used prescription drugs for illegitimate purposes in the prior year.

In the year 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported a 35% drop in the medical use of Demerol specifically. However, at the same time the AMA reported a 7% increase in the number of emergency room visits associated with Demerol.

A CDC Study

The Centers for Disease Control collected statistics on Demerol and other opiates in a study that lasted from 2004-2007. It studied the State of Washington’s Medicaid population. The study showed that out of 1,668 deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses, 11 of those were purely attributed to Demerol. During that same, fully 90% of patients that were prescribed Demerol misused the drug by increasing its dosage, the frequency of intake, shopping for doctors, and forging prescriptions. In the State of Washington, the study determined that 2.4% of all overdose and death cases among those enrolled in the Medicaid program were in fact Demerol related.

Because of the deleterious effects of Demerol, a concerted effort to reduce the number of prescriptions written has been undertaken. For example, in West Virginia, hospitals created guidelines to govern Demerol usage and to limit its use to critical procedures, primarily surgical. Two-thirds of the state’s hospitals now report reduced use of Demerol. In those facilities, Demerol represents less than 1/10 of all the opiates used in the hospital.

Getting Addicted to Meperidine (Demerol®)

Even though the euphoria attached to the experience of taking Demerol can be very intoxicating, no one ever plans to get addicted to this drug. Patients who initially use Demerol to relieve pain often experience that sense of euphoria. It becomes all too easy to want to seek out that same experience again and again. As they do this, drug tolerance increases. Higher and higher dosages are needed to get the same dramatically elevated mood. At this point, the addiction has taken hold of the individual. When this occurs, by definition, an addiction is developing. Because Demerol is so commonly used and abused, high-quality inpatient treatments for addiction to Demerol have become readily available for those that need this important help.

Demerol Withdrawal

Once Demirel has been taken for more than a few weeks, any sudden cessation in taking the drug can result in severe symptoms. Physicians typically remove Demerol from their patients’ treatment plan by slowly tapering the dosage over time. Rapid withdrawal can create a host of symptoms, particularly in the first few hours after a dosage is missed.

Initial symptoms can include:

  • watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • insomnia
  • diarrhea
  • yawning
  • dysphoria
  • sweating

Also, some individuals will sense a strong drug craving. As the syndrome advances, the onset of additional withdrawal symptoms may occur, including:

  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • body aches, possibly severe
  • severe abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dehydration
  • tremors
  • intensified drug craving
  • depression, sometimes severe
  • suicidal thoughts
  • anxiety
  • weakness
  • convulsions
  • muscle spasms, potentially severe
  • kicking movements

Also, as the withdrawal progresses, elevated heart rate and blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, blood clot, or stroke in severe instances. Chills may alternate with flushing. Accelerate breathing may also be a part of the withdrawal experience. The worst withdrawal symptoms often peak 2-4 days after the last dose is taken. Symptoms will often not substantially subside for 10-12 days.

During the withdrawal process, a suitable “substitute” narcotic can be administered to significantly reverse the withdrawal symptoms.

The Inpatient Treatment Process After an Intervention

The first step in treating the Demerol addiction is detoxification that is physician-supervised. This vital initial step allows the body to rid itself of drug toxins in a safe and supervised manner. After a person addicted to Demerol goes through detox, he or she is then ready to begin the process of rehabilitation. The rehab process typically involves counseling and psychotherapy to get to the root of the problem. That is what caused the patient to become vulnerable to addiction in the first place. Those with chronic pain problems receive counseling to help them manage their pain more safely and to learn certain coping skills that can help them get relief while avoiding addiction risks.

“Dual diagnosis” treatment is common in inpatient rehabilitation. Treatment to relieve Demerol addiction simultaneously occurs along with treatment of any underlying mental illness. Undiagnosed mental illnesses are often catalysts for drug addictions, so it is vital that the correct diagnoses and treatment of mental health problems be a part of the recovery from Demerol addiction.

After inpatient treatment concludes it’s vital to establish ongoing support to maintain continued recovery. Sharing in group settings can often be important to “staying clean.” It’s often helpful for Demerol addicts to understand the stories of others — that is, where they have been and how they learned from their own experiences.

The First Step To A New Life

Be decisive, take that first step to seek inpatient addiction treatment. The decision to seek help on an inpatient basis can be a vital first step at the beginning of a new life.

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