Meperidine, also known as Demerol, is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. The medication is typically used before or during surgery and other medical procedures. It belongs to the medication class known as narcotic analgesics, and it works by changing the way the body senses pain. This is extremely dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and deaths tied to overdoses are common. The opioid epidemic has led to increasing concerns about doctors’ opioid prescribing practices in the U.S.
Opioids are a class of medications found naturally in the opium poppy plant. Many opioid prescriptions are made from the plant directly, but others are synthesized by scientists in a lab. While they can be highly addictive and deadly substances when abused, they do offer medical value for how they relax the body and relieve pain. Many people who use opioids as prescribed and benefit from the medical properties, but there is a larger group that can fall into the grips of addiction.
An unfortunate reality about pain relief is that the lines between use and abuse are often blurred, and this leads to at least 115 people in the United States perishing daily from opioid overdoses. These figures put into perspective the lengths individuals will go to in an effort to relieve pain, and how they get stuck in a vicious cycle that often has no ending except death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that prescription opioid misuse contributes to $78.5 billion a year in economic burden. This stems from healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Meperidine (Demerol) was derived synthetically in 1939 as an anticholinergic agent. It was later discovered, however, that it possessed analgesic properties. It was shown early on in studies to be an alternative to morphine because of its effects on the body regarding respiratory depression and chemical dependency. It works on the central nervous system in organs composed of smooth muscle. Demerol is not used to treat long-term chronic pain like the medications Vicodin or Percocet. It is used to treat acute episodes of moderate-to-severe pain and is most commonly used to treat pain in a medical setting.
Demerol is most effective when treating short-term pain after an injury or during childbirth. This does not mean, however, that it is not sought out for abuse. Demerol is a powerful drug that can lead to addiction in a short time. The drug works by binding to the natural opioid receptors in the brain that block pain. Demerol attaches to naturally produced opioids in the brain, which causes a rush that results in pain relief and relaxation. This rush is what is referred to as a “high,” and this is what users chase when they begin to abuse opioids.
The difference between Demerol and other prescription opioids is that it has a much faster onset. It can be felt in as little as five minutes when used intravenously, and the feeling can be compared to warmth and relaxation. Users have described it as a “warm blanket.” These descriptions lead those in the medical community to believe it has a high probability of being abused, and their observations are correct. Doctors must exercise caution when prescribing it as a medication and look for warning signs of addiction.
During the earlier stages, users may not show the outward signs often associated with addiction. A growing substance use disorder is something that should not be taken lightly, and becoming aware of the signs can often be the best defense. There are signs to be aware of if you suspect either yourself or a loved one is falling into a Demerol addiction.
During the first stages of addiction, users will often start taking higher doses than what is prescribed as they build a tolerance. This could mean taking the drug in ways not intended or consuming it without a prescription. This is when addiction can start to become noticeable to an unsuspecting person. Abuse in this fashion will ultimately lead to a tolerance.
Tolerance is when the body adapts to the drug and require higher doses for the same effects. When you take a single pill, and it does not affect you the same way when you began using, this could mean you are becoming tolerant. The longer the drug is used, the less effective the initial dose will become. This will lead to your body developing a dependence. While the effects may be weaker, the body’s urge to use will strengthen.
Addiction is defined as a brain disease that is manifested by substance use despite harmful consequences. In short, it is a complex condition that can alter the course of the user’s trajectory. People who struggle with addiction will experience distorted thoughts, behaviors, and body functions. If Demerol use is negatively affecting your daily routine, or if it results in serious consequences, such as losing your job, this can be a strong indicator that you’ve developed an addiction.
There are many reasons why addiction should never be faced alone. One of the biggest? You don’t have to face it alone. Access to treatment is available, so there’s no reason to struggle a day longer. Addiction is a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with the proper tools. Building foundations in treatment will allow you to gain the tools that help you ensure long-term sobriety.
Detoxification is the first and most difficult phase of the treatment continuum. The withdrawal process from opioids is not fatal like benzodiazepines, but the extreme discomfort experienced may push a user right back into the cycle. Suddenly stopping the use of any drug should never be considered without the guidance of medical professionals. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal are similar to the flu and include sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, runny nose, and sneezing.
A medical detox will give you access to a team of trained health care professionals with your best interests at heart. Safety is the main objective. You will have 24-hour supervision, and the team will provide you with medications that help the transition into a sober mind frame as comfortable as possible. Detox will cleanse your body and mind from the drugs built up in your system. Detox is an important part of the spectrum. If you take your sobriety seriously, this is the phase you should start in.
After the successful completion of your stay in detox, you will be then moved into the next stage in treatment. Depending on the severity of your addiction, doctors could place you in residential or outpatient treatment. A residential treatment requires clients to live on-site at a treatment facility during a 30- to 90-day period, or longer if needed. During that time, clients attend various therapies that help them understand their addiction from a psychological perspective. There will be many other individuals on the same path as you where you can seek comfort knowing you’re not alone. This is a difficult journey, but making this choice is the right one.
If the team decides outpatient treatment is a better fit for your needs, you will attend the same type of therapies as those held for residential clients. These include cognitive behavioral therapies, group therapies, and individual therapies to name a few. The main difference is that when you finish your session, you can return home. You will be required to submit regular drug tests and attend at least nine hours of therapy a week. Your team will help create relapse prevention plans that give you success long after treatment has finished.
Although Demerol isn’t as common as it once was in the United States, a black market is still available for it. The reason it has become less common is its interaction with other medications. It breaks down differently in your body than other opioids. After Demerol breaks down, it takes form as norpethidine, which causes damage to the brain and nervous system. Countries like New Zealand and the United Kingdom still use this drug frequently.
Opioids, in general, are not safe because of their potential for abuse. They do offer medical properties, or otherwise, they would not exist. Thousands of lives are cut short each year, and many more families feel the effects, even when have never touched opioids. The problem when doctors prescribe drugs like Demerol is that a user can become hooked, and when their treatment has ended, their addiction requires them to get more. When they come up short in the search, they turn to cheaper and more accessible alternatives like heroin.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to Demerol, Ocean Breeze Recovery can help you start your recovery now. Our services include a partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient treatment. We also offer medical detox and residential treatment at our sister facility, Arete Recovery.Call (844) 554-9279 now to speak with one of our addiction specialists about which of our treatment programs is best for you or your loved one. You can also contact us online for more information.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
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Opioid Overdose. (2017, August 30). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html
Mayo Clinic. Drugs and Supplements. (2019 November 1) Meperidine (Oral Route). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/meperidine-oral-route/description/drg-20074223
American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid Addiction. 2016 Facts & Figures. Impact on Special Populations. Adolescents (12 to 17 years old) (Retrieved 2019 November) from https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf