What Is Demerol? — Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects
Opioid addiction has long been an epidemic in the United States. Over three million people in the US are addicted to opioids of some type, and an estimated 100,000 people die each year from an opioid overdose. In years past, it was easy to assume that opiate addicts were addicted to street drugs like heroin, but now, that isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, many drug users struggling with an opioid addiction rely on prescribed medications — and even those who do use street drugs typically begin their cycle of addiction with opiates prescribed by a physician.
Yet, despite the ongoing epidemic and heavy restrictions from the government, many physicians still continue to prescribe and use potentially dangerous opiates to treat pain. One of these drugs is Demerol. If you’ve been prescribed Demerol, it can help to do your due diligence before beginning your medication. So, what is Demerol, and what are its uses, benefits, and possible side effects?
What Is Demerol?
Demerol is the brand name for the generic drug meperidine hydrochloride, which belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids. Demerol was first discovered in a lab in 1939 by Eisleb and Schaumann. As this was during World War II, an increased need for morphine led to the creation of Demerol as a synthetic opiate that could treat injured soldiers.
Demerol is administered orally as a tablet or intravenously through an injection. This drug is only available with a prescription from your doctor and is typically only administered in hospital settings. It’s currently classified as a Schedule II class narcotic and is considered highly addictive.
Uses of Demerol
While Demerol’s main use is as a pain reliever or analgesic, it’s also commonly used for sedation and is similar in composition to morphine. As a heavy narcotic, Demerol is only suggested to be used in cases of moderate to severe pain and is not recommended for long-term use due to its heavily addictive nature.
But what does moderate and severe pain mean, exactly? For example, if you fall, snap your ankle, and end up in a cast, would your doctor describe Demerol? Unlikely. Even for a broken bone, you’ll probably be prescribed a less potentially addictive narcotic, if any.
Demerol was the first synthetic opioid to ever hit the market, but since then, many other synthetic opioids have been created that are even stronger. Because it has less potency than other opioids like Percocet and OxyContin, Demerol must be used in higher amounts, and it’s easier to become addicted and dependent on it.
In fact, the majority of healthcare organizations around the world now believe that Demerol’s benefits in dealing with pain do not outweigh its high risk of dependency. These organizations are working to remove it from hospital settings. But in the meantime, it’s still used commonly by surgeons in combination with other narcotics to assist with sedation.
Why Is Demerol Prescribed?
Demerol is mainly prescribed for pain management. However, doctors now have various other choices for pain management, many of which are more potent. So why continue to prescribe Demerol?
Each narcotic comes with its own risks and side effects. With Demerol, there are lower instances of gastrointestinal side effects like nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Typically, Demerol also doesn’t lower a patient's blood pressure (hypotension). On the other hand, these are typical side effects of drugs like morphine and Percocet. So if a patient is particularly at risk for serious side effects of this nature, doctors may choose to prescribe Demerol instead.
Does Demerol Have Benefits?
Much of the medical community has concluded that Demerol's benefits do not outweigh its risks. However, it still has some pertinent uses and is still used for sedation by surgeons worldwide.
Due to its similar structure to fentanyl, Demerol can sometimes be prescribed to patients who have allergies to other narcotics. And as mentioned above, it does not carry common side effects like nausea, vomiting, or a risk of ulcers if taken long-term. But even with these benefits, Demerol is still considered by many to be too dangerous in comparison to other drugs for regular prescription and hospital use.
We’ve mentioned several times now that some healthcare providers have deemed Demerol unnecessarily dangerous. But why?
First, its highly addictive nature makes Demerol dangerous as an over-the-counter prescription. It also carries a higher likelihood of something called “normeperidine neurotoxic syndrome.” Neurotoxic syndrome is a rare condition in which overexposure to human-made compounds overloads the nervous system. In some cases, it can cause the death of neurons in the brain — leading to permanent brain damage or even death.
Like many drugs, Demerol also carries the risk of milder side effects. The most common mild side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
The side effects above are generally no cause for serious concern. However, if you have any of the following side effects, you should consult a doctor immediately:
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Slow or irregular heartbeat
- Stomach pain
- Fast or weak pulse
And most seriously, the following are signs of an overdose. Call 911 immediately if you or someone with you displays any of the following symptoms:
- Bluish skin or lips
- Loss of consciousness
- Decreased responsiveness
Though Demerol is highly addictive, its illicit use is curbed somewhat by its limited prescription in hospital settings. At hospitals, Demerol is typically injected in its liquid form.
On the rare occasion that Demerol is prescribed for use outside of a medical center, it is typically prescribed in pill form. As such, the most common illegal use of Demerol is prescription drug abuse by inappropriately using, buying, and selling of Demerol in pill form.
Demerol, like all opioids, can be incredibly dangerous and addictive — even if prescribed and used correctly as advised by a doctor. If you or a family member thinks they may be addicted to any opioid, Demerol included, then you should consult a doctor immediately to discuss treatment.
Of course, it’s not always easy to tell if a loved one is abusing drugs. But if you need answers, Countrywide can help. We offer multipanel drug tests that test for opiates, letting you know if and when your loved one needs support for a growing addiction.
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