Demerol (generic name meperidine) is a fast-acting narcotic drug that has been used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved it for use in 1942. According to VeryWell Health, hospitals routinely used the medication to treat pain, but safety issues have led to limited use in certain instances, such as before and during surgeries of patients. Some doctors still use it as an anesthetic and pain reliever for women who are in labor.
VeryWell Health reports that Demerol can be taken as:
- A tablet
- A liquid syrup (taken orally);
- An injection
Its half-life is between 2.5 to 4 hours in an adult person, which means it takes this long for half of the dose to process out of the body.
While Demerol is more likely to be used in a hospital, some forms of it can be taken at home under a doctor’s prescription. Even so, it’s not recommended for the long-term treatment of chronic or acute pain.
According to American Nurse Today, Demerol is no longer among the primary medications used to treat pain. It writes, “Meperidine (Demerol) has a metabolite called normeperidine that can build up in the central nervous system (CNS) and cause seizures. For this reason, meperidine is no longer considered a first-line drug for pain.”
According to RxList, it is recommended that doses of Demerol be limited to 600 mg (milligrams) or less in a 24-hour period. People who take it at home are advised not to use it for more than two days.
Demerol and its Dangers
Demerol, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a highly addictive opioid medication that affects the central nervous system. Doctors once considered Demerol to be less addictive than morphine because it was linked to fewer risks and dangers than other opioid pain medications.
The Pharmacy Times reports that it was once considered an alternative to morphine because it didn’t produce the same effects as morphine did, such as respiratory depression and chemical dependency. However, views on this have changed in the years since.
As with other opioids, Demerol changes how the brain and body perceive pain. The substance binds to the body’s opioid receptors. Once these receptors are activated, they work with the body’s naturally occurring opioids, called endorphins, to block pain signals that are sent along the spine, in the brain, and throughout the body.
However, VeryWell Health notes that Demerol is different from other medications, such as morphine, because it acts on the central nervous system and replaces the feeling of pain with a euphoric high that doesn’t address the source of the user’s pain.
These potent effects are addictive. A person can become dependent on the feelings of getting high at the cost of developing an addiction. All users should be aware of the long list of side effects of using Demerol.
According to EverydayHealth.com, common side effects of Demerol use include:
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Dry mouth
- Sudden drop in blood pressure upon standing
- Slow heartbeat
- Vision changes
- Itching, rash, or hives
- Nervousness, irritability
- Shaking (tremors)
- Loss of motor control
According to the health site, there are side effects that are considered more severe and could mean an overdose is occurring, which is explained a bit later on. If you or someone you know experiences the following, it is advised that Demerol use is stopped and that care from a physician is sought as soon as possible:
- Abnormally low blood pressure
- Slowed heartbeat
- Trouble with breathing
- Shallow or stopped breathing
Demerol is habit-forming, which means that once you stop, you likely will have to combat drug withdrawals. These are better addressed in the care of a professional treatment process called medical detox. No one is advised to quit drugs on their own cold turkey. This is also dangerous and could lead to overdose and death.
How Injecting Demerol Works
Demerol can enter the body through injection into a vein (intravenously), or it can be injected into a muscle (intramuscularly). It also can be given directly under the skin (subcutaneously). Drugs.com advises that giving the medication via muscle injection is the preferred method.
A doctor determines how the medication is to be administered as well as how often. Injections are typically administered by a doctor only, and they can be given once every three to four hours or as directed by a physician. As MedicineNet advises, the size of the dosage depends on the receiver’s medical condition, including the severity of one’s pain, and response to therapy. Also, this prescribed dosage should not be adjusted unless a doctor advises that it be adjusted.
To be clear: It is dangerous to inject Demerol outside the care of a medical professional. The safest way to ensure that Demerol injection is therapeutic and treats pain as intended is to receive it from a doctor in a medical setting. This is the best strategy tip to ensure the injection is safe. It is dangerous to receive an injection in other settings. If the dosages administered are too high or the injection is done improperly, serious problems can result.
As with taking any medication, patients should consult with a doctor first. They also should tell the medical professional about any other drugs they are taking. That includes any recreational or illegal drugs as well.
The FDA has flagged Demerol as a drug that people with an addiction will seek out and abuse. This is another reason why use outside of a hospital or clinical setting is not advised. While Demerol abuse may not be as widespread as other opioids are, but it is no less addictive. Recreational abuse leads to grave consequences, such as an addiction that will be tough to overcome.
Those who abuse Demerol to get high will crush, chew, snort, or dissolve the substance so they can inject it into their veins themselves. Again, this is not recommended. People abuse Demerol for its euphoric effects.
Even those who are prescribed the drug are at risk of developing a dependence because of how strong it is. The central nervous system can adapt to routine Demerol use and start to rely on it to maintain the body’s brain chemistry.
People who abuse Demerol may not know that habitual use ensures the brain comes to rely on it to the point where it thinks using it is a life-sustaining activity, like eating food or drinking water. This causes people to use more of the substance to satisfy invasive and intense cravings.
Lingering urges to use typically means the user likely will take larger and unsafe amounts to just satisfy cravings that can truly never be satisfied. Drug use at this rate changes the brain so much that it only knows how to function with the drug in the body’s system. This leaves the person open to developing an addiction and possibly overdosing, which can result in permanent injury or death.
Long-term Demerol abuse produces the following effects:
- Increased drug tolerance
- Respiratory damage that could lead to brain damage that results from an absence of oxygen in the tissues (hypoxia)
- Chronic constipation
- Vomiting, nausea
- Abdominal bloating
- Liver damage
Responsible Demerol Use
Prescribed use of Demerol requires a doctor’s prescription, and doctors are usually who administer the drug in injection form, as noted earlier. A medical professional or pharmacist should provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions on how to use the medication properly.
To avoid misuse and overdose, users should learn how to use the medication and ask any questions they have. As MedlinePlus.gov warns, “Use meperidine injection exactly as directed. Do not use more of it, use it more often, or use it in a different way than directed by your doctor.” They also should report any side effects immediately.
It is illegal to use this medication outside of a doctor’s prescription. Therefore, injecting Demerol without a doctor present to monitor dosage amounts is highly dangerous. Using the medication in ways contrary to its intent is considered abuse. It is dangerous to inject Demerol in larger amounts than needed or prescribed. High doses can be toxic to the system, and overdose can happen.
Not everyone who misuses or abuses Demerol intends to do so. Even people who take this medication exactly as prescribed are still susceptible to psychological dependence on it. People who take more than prescribed are misusing the drug, and, therefore, are at risk of developing a tolerance and mental dependence on it.
“Using Demerol with other drugs or alcohol is also not recommended. Using these drugs together counts as abuse as well and can lead to a fatal overdose. ”
Professional treatment is recommended for people who have lost control of their Demerol use or abuse the drug to get high.
Demerol Overdose Signs
If an overdose on Demerol has occurred, call 911 right away for emergency care. You can also call the poison control center at 800-222-1222.
MedlinePlus.gov lists the following as signs of a Demerol overdose include:
- Blue fingernails, lips
- Cold, clammy skin
- Nausea, vomiting
- Spasms of stomach or intestines
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Slow and labored breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Stopped breathing
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Muscle twitching
If any of these signs are present, do not delay to seek help.
When you dial for emergency medical care, be sure to tell the operator essential information, such as the person’s age, sex, weight, and other drugs the person may have used. If the person is conscious and can talk to you, ask for information that can aid emergency responders so that they know how they need to treat the person and situation.