Darvocet is a banned prescription drug that was used to treat mild-to-severe pain. The drug contains propoxyphene, an opiate pain-relief substance that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) identified as the cause of some heart-related health risks. Darvocet and its counterpart, Darvon, were banned in 2010.

Despite the FDA’s ban, many people still inquire about the drug with Google searches such as, “What is Darvocet?” and “What does Darvocet do?” People also frequently Google  “What is Darvan?” in an effort to learn more about the drug. Unfortunately, the drug remains illegally available and generic drugs that include substances similar to propoxyphene also are available in prescription form.

Darvocet reduces a person’s pain by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain, which causes the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. The body can become accustomed to the presence of Darvocet in order to release dopamine, and a physical dependence can form. Additionally, the brain can correlate taking the drug with a pain-free euphoric high, which can create an addiction.

Before taking Darvocet, or any prescription drug to treat for pain, consult with your doctor. Understanding what Darvocet is used for, why the drug was discontinued and what a Darvocet high is like could help prevent a potential addiction from forming.

Darvocet is a pain-relief medication that combines propoxyphene and acetaminophen, the latter of which reduces fever and is included in substances such as Tylenol. Darvocet is considered an opiate agonist, albeit a partial one, so the drug does not have the same effects on the brain’s opioid receptors as full agonists like heroin and morphine do. Millions of people struggle with prescription drug misuse each year, and in 2017 the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that around 19,300 Americans died of an overdose due to the use of prescription opioid pain-relievers.

Before the FDA banned Darvocet, the drug was a Schedule IV narcotic under the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act. There are five schedule classifications, with Schedule I comprised of the drugs that are the most addictive and are illegal (e.g., heroin, cocaine, meth and ecstasy) and Schedule V including the least-addictive substances (e.g., cough medicines that have a small amount of codeine). How a drug is scheduled affects how accessible the drug is to the public, if accessible at all. The FDA can move drugs from schedule to schedule if new information is released about a drug’s effects, including how addictive the substance is or whether it includes any other severe health risks.

While Schedule IV drugs are not considered as addictive as Schedule III, II or I substances, the drugs in this classification can be dangerous if abused. Schedule IV drugs include:

Darvocet is addictive when taken consistently or used in large doses. Not only that, but the presence of propoxyphene leads to worrisome health risks for many Americans who rely on the pain-relief medication. The history of Darvocet, including how the drug became so popular and why it has since been banned, could provide insight into how it endangers people’s lives.

darvocet pills

Darvon, a similar pain-relief medication to Darvocet, was created in 1957 by Eli Lilly & Co. Darvocet was made soon after, in 1972. Both substances were used for decades to treat pain and had effects similar to that of morphine, which is five times more potent than either Darvon or Darvocet.

Darvocet became an extremely popular drug at the end of the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st century. According to the FDA, more than 20 million prescriptions were written for Darvocet in 2007. However, the drug became controversial starting in the 1970s due to its health risks.

The group Public Citizen petitioned in 1978 for the FDA to ban the drug and any other drug that included propoxyphene due to heart problems associated with using Darvocet. Despite the request being denied, the group again petitioned for the same action in 2006. The FDA then asked an advisory committee to rule on whether the government administration should ban Darvocet. The committee voted 14-12 in favor of taking the drug off of the prescription market. However, the FDA overruled the committee and asked Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals Inc., the company that makes the drug, to study how Darvocet affects the heart when used even as prescribed. After the study’s findings were sent to the FDA, the administration decided to ban the drug and other propoxyphene-based prescriptions. Darvocet was discontinued in 2010 due to causing abnormal or even deadly heart rhythm abnormalities, according to Dr. John Jenkins, the director of the FDA’s office of new drugs at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

“Combined with prior safety data,” Jenkins added in the 2010 press release announcing that Darvocet was discontinued, “this altered our risk assessment.”

Darvocet is an oval-shaped orange pill with “DARVOCET-N 100” imprinted on it. Another version of the drug has the same shape and color but “DARVOCET-N 50” imprinted on it. The number represents the strength of that version of the drug. Darvon, by comparison, is a capsule-shaped pink pill with a similar imprint on it to identify the maker and the strength of that particular version. DARVOCET-N 100 pills included 100 milligrams of propoxyphene and 650 milligrams of acetaminophen. DARVOCET-N 500 pills included 50 mg of propoxyphene and 325 mg of acetaminophen.

While many pain-relief drugs come in pill form, the Darvocet pill color allows the drug to stand out from others. Not many prescription medications share the orange appearance that Darvocet has, which allows people to easily recognize the banned substance.

When allowed to be prescribed, the Darvocet dosage amount varied for each person based on their level of pain, history of substance use, whether they are taking other prescription drugs to treat for pain, and the physical attributes of the patient. The typical Darvocet dosage amount was one or two tablets every four hours, depending on the strength of the pill.

If someone was taking Darvocet-N 100, the recommended amount of the drug was one pill every four hours and no more than six per day. If someone was taking Darvocet-N 50, the recommended amount was two pills every four hours as needed and no more than 12 per day.

Taking a large amount of a drug or increasing the frequency at which someone uses a drug could cause an addiction to form. As a drug such as Darvocet interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors and releases more pain-reducing chemicals, the body becomes not only reliant on the drug’s presence but also tolerant to it. Increasing the dosage can increase the body’s tolerance, requiring an even larger dosage to achieve the same pain-relieving effects. Increasing the Darvocet dosage to more than what was recommended regularly put people at risk of not only developing an addiction but also experiencing an overdose.

Many people inquire about the addictive nature of Darvocet based around questions like, “Is Darvocet an opiate?” Or, “Is Darvocet a narcotic?” Darvocet includes propoxyphene, which is an opiate. Propoxyphene also is a narcotic, which means it is sold for nonmedical purposes. Therefore, Darvocet is not only a narcotic but also an opiate. Darvocet is considered a mu-agonist opiate, meaning the drug only interacts with the mu-opioid receptor in the brain. Despite Darvocet’s limited interaction with the opioid receptors, the drug can still be addictive due to causing the release of feel-good chemicals and reduction of pain. When an addiction develops, people might turn to cheaper illicit drugs, such as heroin, to appease their opioid craving.

Recognizing whether someone is using the drug and might be addicted to the substance can be challenging. However, there are Darvocet side effects to look for which can help someone identify if they or a loved one have been using the drug. Some side effects include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Feeling dizzy or confused
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleepiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired vision

Despite Darvocet being banned from medical use, many people still take the drug for recreational purposes or to self-medicate for chronic pain. If someone asks, “Can you get high on Darvocet?” that too could be a sign that someone is interested in using the drug.

Darvocet Addiction Statistics

A 1980 study that was published in the United States National Library of Medicine examined 81 overdoses due to Darvocet’s main ingredient, propoxyphene. The study was done after a proposal was made to reclassify propoxyphene as a Schedule II drug, increasing the restrictions on its accessibility to the public. The deaths that were reviewed occurred in the 1970s, and 76.5 percent of them were intentional while 23.5 percent were accidental overdoses. In two-thirds of the suicidal overdoses, additional drugs were taken. In the 19 accidental deaths, six were from recreational use of propoxyphene and other drugs were used in each incident. Only one person in the study was found to be dependent on propoxyphene, which was part of the reason the FDA rejected the proposal to reclassify the substance.

However, propoxyphene use is not recommended due to the many health risks associated with taking the substance. At the time Darvocet was banned, in 2010, the FDA reported that around 10 million Americans were taking that drug and other pain-relief medications that included propoxyphene. Before the drug was banned, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that Darvocet was among the 10 most-misused substances in the U.S.

If you or someone you know is regularly taking Darvocet, do not abruptly stop the use of the substance as that can cause severe withdrawal symptoms to occur. Resources are available for anyone who currently struggles with a dependence on Darvocet or other prescription opioids. The Recovery Village, a network of rehabilitation facilities in each region of the country, has a team of doctors and counselors who can help people suffering from a substance use disorder. One call will put you or the person you care about in touch with a knowledgeable representative who can explain the process of starting a treatment program and the different levels of care available.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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