06 Feb Demerol Abuse and Addiction
Demerol is a specific, commercially available form of a prescription medication called meperidine or meperidine hydrochloride. It belongs to a group of painkilling opioid medications known as narcotic analgesics. Inside the body, Demerol and other forms of meperidine produce effects that resemble the effects produced by the opioid morphine. When used according to a doctor’s guidelines, they typically present minimal risks for the onset of drug addiction. However, when abused against a doctor’s guidelines, or abused without any prescription at all, meperidine presents significant risks for addiction, as well as risks for a potentially fatal drug overdose.
Like all other opioid medications and illegal opioid drugs of abuse, the chemical structure of meperidine ultimately comes from certain mind-altering substances that occur naturally in the sap of the opium poppy, known to botanists as Papaver somniferum. Some opioid drugs—such as opium, morphine, and codeine—come directly from this sap. However, the majority of opioids are at least partially synthetic. Along with a synthetic form of codeine and two drugs called fentanyl and methadone, meperidine is an entirely manmade substance designed to produce the same basic effects as natural opioids. In addition to Demerol, commercially available forms of meperidine include Meperitab, Pethidine, and Isonipecaine.
Inside the brain and spinal cord (known collectively as the central nervous system), all opioids produce their effects when their individual molecules attach themselves to the surfaces of nerve cells called neurons. This attachment occurs at specific receptor sites called opioid receptors. One of the consequences of opioid attachment at the opioid receptors is the onset of a powerful form of pleasure called euphoria. In addition, opioids disrupt the normal transmission of pain signals from various nerves up through the spinal cord and into the brain. This disruption produces a painkilling effect that makes opioids a relatively popular treatment option for certain forms of moderate to severe pain symptoms. Meperidine was developed specifically as a pain-relieving medication.
Meperidine Abuse and Addiction
There are several other opioid medications more powerful than meperidine. Still, like all opioid drugs and medications, it can produce long-term changes in normal brain chemistry that lead to a combination of physical dependence, recurring drug cravings, and the onset of drug-seeking behaviors oriented around satisfying those cravings. When this combination occurs, it signals the presence of drug addiction. In order to minimize the potential for addiction, doctors prescribe all opioid medications, including Demerol and other meperidine products, for limited amounts of time and in limited dosages. Meperidine abuse occurs whenever anyone takes Demerol, Meperitab, or any other meperidine product outside of a strictly medical context requiring a doctor’s explicit approval.
While any form of meperidine abuse can potentially result in drug addiction, addiction risks are particularly high in people who crush tablets of the drug and either inhale or inject the resulting powder. This is true because inhalation and injection deliver meperidine to the brain at an increased rate, and therefore increase the severity of the brain changes that ultimately support the development of an addiction. Injection of Demerol and other forms of meperidine also increase an abuser’s risks for toxic side effects that can lead to infections, tissue death, lung lesions called granulomas, a dangerous form of heart inflammation called endocarditis, or heart disease. These effects occur when talc additives in meperidine tablets migrate through the bloodstream to various parts of the body.
Short- or long-term meperidine abuse and addiction can also lead to the onset of a drug overdose, which occurs when the body can’t effectively eliminate high concentrations of the drug circulating in the bloodstream. Specific symptoms manifested by people who overdose on Demerol or any other meperidine product include dangerous decreases in normal breathing rates, dangerously shallow breathing, extreme sleepiness that leads to an unresponsive state called stupor, extreme sleepiness that leads to the onset of a coma, abnormally low blood pressure and heart rate, and an abnormally low body temperature. People who inject meperidine can develop additional, potentially lethal overdose symptoms such as a form of paused breathing called apnea, a complete stoppage of the heart muscle (cardiac arrest), and complete failure of the circulatory system.
Treatments used to combat the effects of meperidine abuse and addiction are essentially the same as the treatments used for all other forms of opioid abuse and addiction. Common steps include use of the medications buprenorphine and methadone, and use of behavioral therapies such as multidimensional family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Doctors typically treat meperidine overdoses with emergency measures that include protection of a patient’s airway and administration of an opioid antidote called naloxone.
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