Pethidine is a drug that familiar to anyone who has given birth in a hospital. Also known as meperidine or by the brand name Demerol, it has been prescribed as a pain relief medication during labor since it was first licensed in 1943. The once popular synthetic opioid has fallen out of favor in the medical profession due to its negative interactions with other drugs. Notably, a drug interaction between pethidine and an antidepressant caused the death of medical student Libby Zion. This tragedy led to a change in New York’s health regulations.
Pethidine is also a target for thefts in hospitals. There is a high incidence of misuse among medical staff. Illegal sales to those who became addicted during legitimate medical use are also commonplace.
What Does Pethidine Do?
Pethidine, or Demerol as it is more commonly known, works as a painkiller by interrupting the way pain is transmitted from the nerves to the brain. It’s commonly prescribed in tablet form or administered via an injection to the buttocks or upper leg, providing pain relief for up to four hours.
During the 20th century, Demerol was one of the most commonly prescribed pain medications due to its rapid onset and short period of effectiveness. Presently, it is prescribed less often when compared with other opioids due to its numerous side effects and negative interactions. Side effects of pethidine include:
- nausea and vomiting
- dry mouth
- breathing difficulties
Pethidine also inhibits dopamine and norepinephrine transporters in a similar way to cocaine, causing a feeling of euphoria, which is the reason that it is often misused.
Is Pethidine Addictive?
Like many other opioids, synthetic and otherwise, Demerol is highly addictive, leading to high instances of abuse. The opioid epidemic in the US continues to be a problem, with 9.7 million people abusing painkillers in 2019. Due to its potential for abuse, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, and other health care policy agencies, have recommended limits for pethidine’s use. The maximum recommended daily dose is set at 600 mg with a maximum 48-hour period of use. The use of oral pethidine is also discouraged, although many physicians continue to prescribe the drug in this form. Demerol’s addictive properties have led to its classification as a Schedule II controlled substance.
As is common with all opioids, the more you use pethidine, the less effective it becomes, requiring continuously increasing quantities to obtain the same feeling of euphoria. Demerol addicts will try to replicate their earlier feelings by chewing tablets, crushing and snorting them or crushing them, or mixing them with water and injecting the solution. This increases the chance of an overdose, which can cause severe symptom,s such as:
- weak or limp muscles
- extreme drowsiness
- clammy and cold skin
Demerol also inhibits the respiratory system, so an overdose can lead to death. If you suspect someone is suffering from a Demerol overdose, it is vital to obtain immediate medical attention.
It is important to note that those who abuse painkillers like pethidine often mix the drug with other substances. Combining Demerol with depressants like alcohol or marijuana can increase the risk of cardiac arrest, seizures, respiratory failure and coma. On the other hand, combining Demerol with stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamines (known as “speedballing”) can mask its effects, leading to an increased risk of overdose.
Signs of Demerol Addiction
Using Demerol medication in a way not prescribed by your physician is abuse, which can rapidly escalate into addiction. However, people who abuse opioids are very good at masking their use and can appear to live their lives as normal. Still, here are a few signs you can look out for:
- constricted pupils
- regular nausea and vomiting
- constant fatigue
- heavy sweating
- appearing to be in a daze
- forging prescriptions
- increasing dosages
- switching physicians
- slow breathing
- constant itching
- stealing money
- numerous stashes of Demerol
- changes in routine, such as neglecting responsibilities and withdrawing from activities
- lying about usage
- dry mouth
Unfortunately, many users feel that Demerol isn’t as dangerous as street drugs like heroin or meth because it is prescribed by doctors and doesn’t have the same stigma. This can lead to abuse and addiction before the user realizes they have a problem. This is why intervention and treatment are vital. If you think you or a loved one have a problem with abuse of Demerol or any other opioid, seek help immediately.
Treatment for Pethidine Abuse and Addiction
Along with its highly addictive nature, Demerol withdrawal has unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects, so it’s important that you don’t just stop taking it without professional medical help. Withdrawal can cause:
- high blood pressure
- muscle pains
These symptoms begin to show within 24 hours of the last dose, and their strength often leads to relapse. Between two and five days into withdrawal, the symptoms intensify and the user may feel scared and uncomfortable. After this, the symptoms begin to ease and fade away. Two to three weeks after the last dose, most withdrawal symptoms will be gone, although the urge to relapse is never far away.
Supervision is a good idea in the early stages, and medical detox is a suitable option, tapering off use over time. The meperidine classification as a Schedule II controlled substance means that medical detox must be supervised by licensed physicians. Inpatient treatment is also recommended at this stage, particularly if the addiction is severe. This allows 24/7 monitoring of the patient for two primary reasons: their physical health and to prevent them from seeking out Demerol again.
Therapy sessions and group counseling are also useful as they help the user address the psychological components of addiction. Analyzing the reasons for their addiction, how it affected their life and the lives around them and developing healthier behaviors are critical to preventing relapse.
For many recovering Demerol addicts, this can also be accomplished on an outpatient basis, allowing them to maintain their day-to-day lives and personal relationships. Of course, every patient is different and addiction specialists will tailor recovery programs to individual patients.
Beat Addiction With FHE Health
Beating addiction can be a tough road, and Demerol poses a particular challenge. Fortunately, at FHE Health, we have all the expertise you or your loved one need to return to living your best life. Our inpatient and outpatient programs give you all the tools you need with medical detox, therapy and group counseling. So if you or someone you love has a problem with Demerol abuse or addiction, reach out in complete confidence to one of our team by calling or contacting us online.