The opioid crisis has devastated this country and much of the world. Marketing tactics used by pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s convinced the medical community that some opioid-based pain medications were non-addictive. By the time doctors and medical oversight realized the truth, opioids were widely prescribed, giving easy access to those who had become addicted. Drugs commonly abused include the following Schedule II drugs:
Also included in this classification is heroin, even though it has no medicinal use.
The initial false belief that these drugs were safe led to physicians widely prescribing these drugs for both acute and chronic pain. Since the drugs were readily available, it became just as easy for the patients to misuse the drugs and become dependent on them, which in turn led to addiction.
Once the medical community became aware of these effects due to a rise in drug overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers, they began to restrict and reduce the number of prescriptions written. Those who had become addicted turned to fake versions of the drug sold on the street, and some ultimately turned to heroin. By 2019, it was estimated that 1.9 million Americans were addicted or dependent on prescription pain killers. During this same timeframe, approximately 50,000 drug overdose deaths were connected to prescription drugs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), current estimates for the United States show that more than 11 million people over the age of 12 years old misuse prescription opioid painkillers. It is estimated that nearly 20% of those prescribed an opioid painkiller following an injury or surgery ended up dependent on the drugs. Once they lost access to the drugs, some turned to heroin. It is estimated that 80% of heroin users were originally dependent or addicted to prescription opioids.
What Is Demerol?
In the eyes of many in the medical field, Demerol is the most addictive of all the opioid-class painkillers. It was originally developed as an antispasmodic drug. After several years on the market, the medical community realized that while not that effective as an antispasmodic, it clearly worked in the control of severe pain, and in 1939, it was designated as an analgesic.
Demerol is a powerful pain medication primarily used before and during surgery and a limited time following surgery. It is only used for the most severe pain. It is valuable in a hospital setting due to its rapid onset and relatively short duration. Once studies showed how addicted the drug is, however, restrictions on Demerol usage and prescribing were put in place. Recommendations have suggested that individuals take no more than 600 mg of Demerol in a 24-hour period and that patients should not be treated with the medication for more than 48 hours. It is estimated that beyond the 48-hour mark, the patient will begin to become dependent on the drug.
Metabolism and Half-Life of Demerol
Demerol has different effects during the process of metabolism than other drugs in its class; however, it is most closely compared to morphine. When the drug crosses the brain barrier in the metabolism phase, it is responsible for increasing dopamine levels released into the brain. Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that allows us to feel joy. Demerol also stops dopamine from being recycled into its original cells. This causes a buildup in the dopamine levels, leading to an extended feeling of euphoria. This physiological response serves to decrease the perception of pain in the brain.
When Demerol enters the liver, it goes through a breakdown to the chemical neurotoxin normeperidine. Demerol’s general effects are felt for three to four hours for each dose; however, the drug has a half-life of two to five hours. Normeperidine, in contrast, has a half-life of 15 to 45 hours, depending on other health factors of the patient.
Although not fully understood why this occurs, in certain patients, the normeperidine can also display serotonergic effects where the serotonin levels are increased, leading to a dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome. This can exacerbate some of the side effects to dangerous levels.
Short Term Effects of Demerol
Short term effects of Demerol use include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Pinpoint pupils
- Subnormal body temperature
- Low blood pressure
- Slow breathing
- Slow pulse
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness
- Blurred vision
Users can begin to show dependence on Demerol if they continue using it past the CDC-recommended maximum of 48 hours. Side effects of Demerol can become severe with extended use. When side effects such as these are observed, the user could be considered to be dangerously close to a level of overdose:
- Uncontrollable tremors in the hands
- Muscles that stiffen, cramp or twitch
- Breakouts of rashes or hives
- Inability to urinate
- Decreased breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Due to the strength and addictive nature of the drug, it is best to be aware of signs of overdose. Some of these signs include:
- Cold and clammy skin
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Loss of muscle strength
- Extreme fatigue
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Blurred vision
- Respiratory depression
- Slowed heart rate
Demerol use can lead to dependence and addiction within a few days. It can leave long-term effects on the brain and body that are irreversible. The issue of slowed breathing, or respiratory depression, is usually the cause.
When respiratory depression occurs, the brain is deprived of oxygen. The brain is not the only thing affected by oxygen deprivation, though, as blood and tissues are also affected. Brain damage, depression, and anxiety are some of the long-lasting effects that come from Demerol dependence or addiction.
The Need for Tapering
Withdrawing from opioids is never an easy task, but it is a more important factor in some types of opioids over others. When it comes to Demerol, it is recommended that the dosage be tapered down. It is believed that patients should never attempt to quit cold turkey. In the case of Demerol withdrawal, it has been well documented that there is an increased risk of seizure during the tapering and withdrawal process.
The Tapering Process
Tapering off opioids needs to be a slow, medically supervised process. For many opioids, the tapering process can be started at home. With Demerol, it is recommended that the tapering process be done under close medical supervision in a hospital environment.
The goal of the tapering process is to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. In Demerol, these symptoms can occasionally turn deadly. Even with the half-life being shorter than other drugs within the same Schedule II classification, the withdrawals take time to fully detox the drug and its metabolites out of your system.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
The symptoms of withdrawal from Demerol tend to start more quickly than with other opioids. Much of this depends on the normeperidine and its activities. As previously mentioned, this metabolite of Demerol is toxic in nature and can also bring on serotonin syndrome.
The most closely observed symptom of withdrawal will be the levels of respiratory depression. Inattention to this factor can lead to permanent brain damage or even death. Standard symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Runny nose and watery eyes
- Frequent yawning
- Respiratory Depression
- Mood swings
- Severe stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased pain
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Feeling like you are feverish, going from chills to sweats
- Muscle cramps and joint pain
- Increased heart rate
- Blood pressure changes
- Suicidal thoughts
Thanks to the regulations that now control how and when Demerol is used, addiction numbers are down for this particular drug. However, for the true addict, there are still ways to procure it.
The dangers of Demerol cannot be overstated, and detoxification from this drug needs to be monitored in a hospital setting. When withdrawing from other opioids, there are medications that can be used to alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms. Demerol has a propensity to have negative reactions to many different drugs, both prescription and over the counter. Since quitting cold turkey is not recommended, you need to be carefully monitored as you taper off and go through withdrawals. Only a medical professional in a hospital environment will know the safest way to bring you or your loved one off of Demerol based on any underlying conditions and other medications you may need to treat them.
Granite Recovery Centers
When it comes to recovery from a Demerol addiction, you want to receive the right care from the beginning. From your first conversation with our staff of medical professionals, you will find that the Granite Recovery Centers’ treatment program gives you all the tools you need to get started on your recovery path.
Granite’s evidence-based treatment program is customized to every patient based on their needs. We recognize that the needs related to Demerol withdrawal and treatment may differ from those of other opioids due to underlying conditions, necessary medication, and the potential for complications. Our founders developed the Granite Recovery Centers’ drug rehab program based on their own recovery journey.
Every patient begins with a medically supervised detox protocol under close medical monitoring in a hospital setting. Once you have safely completed the detox portion of your treatment, you will be ready to enter your designated inpatient treatment program. Each location is designed to be a tranquil environment conducive to healing.
Programs at Granite Recovery Centers bring together everything you need to start your recovery journey. You will meet with our staff to come up with the right treatment plan for you. We do not believe that everyone’s recovery is the same. As such, you will not be limited to the amount of time you need to remain in treatment.
You may choose to go into one of our intensive outpatient programs once you complete your inpatient treatment. Each facility is staffed with our experienced medical, support and psychiatric professionals, and our program is based on the proven ideologies of the AA 12-step model.
While you are working your way through your inpatient program, you will attend group therapy, individual counseling, and other activities focused on wellness. You will learn new techniques to replace your former behaviors. You will find yourself surrounded by people who understand everything you are going through.
Many people new to recovery realize that going home could involve too many triggers to your old behavior. We give you the option to continue to be surrounded by your peers, who are as serious about recovery as you are. Granite has several sober living facilities to choose from.
When an individual begins their journey to recovery at Granite, they become a member of our family. Going through your aftercare among the peers you began the journey with is good for everyone.
The experiences you go through in recovery are based on the bonds you create with others in the program. We have activities that allow you to stay connected to your recovery family through our alumni program.
If you discovered our site today because you are concerned about the well-being of a family member or friend, please feel free to give us a call to speak to one of our intervention specialists. They can provide guidance on what it takes to help your loved one take those first steps on his or her journey.
If you are in the Northeastern United States, choose Granite to help you with your recovery and join the Granite family. We provide the perfect environment for you to begin your sober journey.