Demerol, the brand name for meperidine, is used to treat acute episodes of moderate-to-severe pain. Classified as a narcotic analgesic, Demerol works in the brain and nervous system to change how the body responds to pain. In the 20th century, Demerol was regarded as the “magic bullet” of painkillers. In 1983, 60 percent of U.S. doctors prescribed it.
The medical establishment has largely turned away from Demerol because of the risk of seizures that can come with its use. That does not mean the drug has completely vanished from the landscape.
In 2011, Demerol penetrated the national consciousness during a criminal court case that involved the death of Michael Jackson. During the trial, it was revealed that the iconic entertainer frequently took injections of Demerol. Jackson even referenced the drug multiple times in a song he wrote for an album he released in 1997.
These days, Demerol is a big player in the opioid epidemic that has ravaged this country. It does not generate the headlines of other opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. The fact that it is not as widely used or prescribed does not make it any less dangerous. Because Demerol is habit-forming, it carries a high potential for abuse.
As with other opioids, long-term Demerol use can cause severe health complications such as respiratory depression and, in some cases, cardiac arrest.
What is Demerol?
Meperidine (Demerol) was first developed by German chemists as a drug to relieve involuntary muscle spasm. Its pain-relieving properties were not discovered until 1939.
Demerol can be taken orally as a liquid or tablet, and it can also be injected. Typically, the medication is prescribed by doctors to treat episodes of acute pain, especially the kind that occurs during childbirth. It is also used to sedate people before operations. Demerol is not intended to treat chronic, long-term pain.
How it works is that it binds to opioid receptors and alters how pain signals are sent to the brain. A user will experience a “high” instead of pain. Often, that high can feel like a sudden rush of euphoria. The drug’s effects can occur within 15 minutes and last anywhere between three to five hours. When taken intravenously, the intended effects can occur within five minutes. The fast-acting nature of the drug is what makes it highly addictive.
Once Demerol dependency is established, a user will display a host of addiction signs, many will mirror that of other more widely known opioids.
What are the Signs of Demerol Addiction?
The surest sign of any substance abuse addiction is the marked disinterest in obligations, whether that involves family, work, or school. Procuring and using the drug becomes the primary focus. For opioid addictions like Demerol, that means falling prey to the drug’s sedative effects and lacking the energy to do anything else.
A user can become addicted to Demerol through the tolerance of and dependence on the medication. A person develops a tolerance when they start taking higher-than-prescribed amounts to achieve the euphoric effects of a previous dosage.
They become dependent on Demerol when they suddenly stop using and experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. They can also become dependent on the drug after taking additional medication (i.e., an opioid antagonist) that blocks the drug’s effect. The physical symptoms of any opioid withdrawal, including Demerol, include:
- Runny nose
- Muscle pain
- Pinpoint pupils
Other symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased respiratory rate
- Increased heart rate
When Demerol addiction takes hold, it yields a host of signs and compulsive behaviors. This includes taking the drug in ways it wasn’t designed to be taken, such as crushing, chewing, snorting, or injecting it.
Like any other opioid, excessive use of Demerol can lead to overdose, which brings a myriad of health complications and, in some cases, death. Overdose symptoms include:
- Slowed breathing
- Extreme sleepiness
- Loose, floppy muscles
- Cold, clammy skin
- Slow heartbeat
- Blurred vision
Demerol can cause your brain to start to adapt to its presence in your nervous system, causing your brain to rely on the foreign chemical to maintain normal brain function. If you develop a chemical dependence on Demerol, it will cause your brain chemistry to become unbalanced when you stop using the drug. This can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
As an opioid, Demerol isn’t known to be deadly during withdrawal like central nervous system depressants can be. Though opioids are sometimes grouped in with depressants, they work differently in the brain and cause different symptoms during withdrawal.
Though opioid withdrawal is rarely deadly, it can be extremely unpleasant, causing flu-like symptoms. In fact, it’s often described as similar to a very bad case of the flu. Demerol withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Joint pain
- Increased breathing
- Increased heart rate
- And changes in blood pressure
For a typical person, opioid withdrawal may not be life-threatening. However, for someone who is vulnerable to the changes in heart rate and blood pressure that’s linked with withdrawal can experience dangerous complications. For instance, older people and people with heart conditions may be at risk.
Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea can cause you to lose water quickly, leading to dehydration if you don’t drink enough water. In rare circumstances, these symptoms have led to medical complications and death. Fatalities because of opioid withdrawal dehydration have typically occurred in cases where prisoners were neglected. However, if dehydration is left unchecked, it can be dangerous for anyone going through withdrawal. The safest way to get through withdrawal is to go through medical detox or in a hospital setting.
How Dangerous is Demerol?
Although Demerol is no longer a first-line medication for pain, recreational use persists. Like other prescription and illicit opioids, it is sold on the “black market” to those who seek its intense, euphoric highs.
As an opioid, Demerol is capable of causing severe and deadly overdose symptoms. When the drug is used in high doses, it can cause your nervous system to slow down to the point where it becomes dangerous. Overdose can cause extreme drowsiness, confusion, coma, hypotension, and respiratory depression. Death is often caused by cardiac arrest or lack of oxygen. An overdose can be caused by an extremely high dose of the prescription drug, but it can also be caused by other circumstances.
If you become dependent on Demerol and slowly increase your dose as your tolerance grows, you may become used to a fairly high dose. If you decide to cut back or quit or if you are forced to for medical or legal reasons, your tolerance will start to go back down after you detox. If you relapse and take the dose you were used to, you may overdose.
An overdose can also occur when you get Demerol illegally. If the prescription becomes too difficult to get, many people turn to illicit means. However, illicit pills may be contaminated with other substances, especially stronger opioids like fentanyl. Drug dealers can press powder into pills that look fairly legitimate, with logos and numbers to add authenticity. In many cases, these pressed pills are cheaper, adulterated opioids. If even a small amount of fentanyl is included, it can cause an overdose.
In addition to the withdrawal and overdose symptoms associated with Demerol use, there is a host of side effects. They can include:
- Extreme calm
- Mood changes
- Stomach pain or cramps
- Dry mouth
- Changes in vision
Demerol is often prescribed to pregnant women to ease pain during childbirth. However, it can cause fetal harm and impact reproduction capacity.
What is Involved in Demerol Addiction Treatment?
Opioids are powerfully addictive drugs that pack severe withdrawal symptoms. While opioid withdrawal is not life-threatening, the symptoms can be painful and unpleasant. This is why going “cold turkey” or stopping use on your own is not recommended.
The first step to any addiction recovery journey begins with medical detoxification via medication-assisted treatment (MAT). When you undergo detox, a licensed staff of doctors and clinicians will conduct a medical assessment. They will determine the severity of your addiction and physical health. Next, a physician will customize a detox plan tailored to your needs. Under this plan, you will receive the necessary medications to mitigate any withdrawal symptoms so that your detox is smooth, safe, and secure.
A medical team will monitor your progress and provide 24/7 care and support. Next, a team of therapists, case managers, and support staff will help you manage the psychological withdrawal symptoms and provide early therapy sessions designed to get at the root of your addiction.
For some people, recovery from addiction cannot occur unless they are removed from their daily lives and placed in a residential treatment facility where they can receive counseling and therapy.
For people who can manage recovery and still go about their daily lives, there is outpatient treatment. In outpatient, you will have regular appointments at a treatment clinic or medical facility for therapy sessions, medical check-ins, and more for varying amounts of time.
You can receive the same level of care as someone in an inpatient program, except you will not be required to put your life on hold. We provide three levels of outpatient care:
- General outpatient treatment: This program provides educational classes, counseling, and medical check-ins for a minimum of two hours a week.
- Intensive outpatient treatment: This comprehensive program renders a level of care that is typical of inpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient usually requires at least three appointments a week for sessions lasting around two to four hours at a time.
- Partial hospitalization program: A PHP typically lasts between one and three months.
Whatever program you choose, our team will give you the appropriate level of care to ensure your recovery and equip you with strategies to prevent future relapse.
Demerol Abuse Statistics
- It is estimated that 17,087 persons in the United States died from drug overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2016.
- About 11.4 million Americans misused prescription pain medicine in 2016 and 2017, according to the HHS.
- In the U.S., 14,432 people died from unintentional drug overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2016.