Meperidine Overdose Symptoms & Treatment
Meperidine is a synthetic opioid medication known by its brand name, Demerol. This painkiller was first created and introduced in 1939 as a way to treat patients who exhibit moderate pain. Compared to another opioid, morphine, Demerol was often regarded as being the safer alternative. The tendency for misuse and addiction was thought to be lower, while the expected pain-relieving benefits were considered to be on par. As it turns out, this was an incorrect assumption on the part of experts. Demerol is not only as habit-forming as morphine, but it is among the most dangerous opioids in medical circulation. These issues are compounded the longer a patient uses the drug. Thus, it is no longer viewed as the harmless, go-to choice.
Without question, Demerol is among the least recognizable substances in the opioid class of painkiller drugs. It is not the preferred opioid medication for doctors in the United States. Truthfully, its therapeutic use peaked in the late 1970s, with a marked decrease in prescriptions ever since then. Additionally, patients, recreational users, and the general population are simply unfamiliar with Demerol. It lacks the prominence and familiarity of other prescription opioids such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, and their associated brands, Percocet and Vicodin, respectively. Demerol is also left out of the picture when discussing even more notorious opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil.
Demerol had its time in the spotlight once again back in June 2009. Experts contend that Demerol use and dependence led to the demise of pop legend Michael Jackson. Reports say that Jackson took the prescription drug regularly to counteract chronic pain symptoms. The world was shocked by the revelation of the singer’s death — and Demerol became a household name once more for all the worst reasons.
The problem doesn’t stop with celebrities. Demerol is an undeniable contributor to the massive opioid crisis that the country finds itself embattled with. In 2016 alone, opioids resulted in more than 50,000 out of 64,000 total drug-related deaths. This places narcotics as the leading cause of death in the United States. Of the 50,000 opioid fatalities, some 14,400 were due to prescriptions opioids. Demerol fits this bill.
Demerol use, medical or recreational, can lead to unintended results including side effects, overdose and potentially death.
Yes, it possible to overdose on meperidine. In fact, the potential is somewhat high, especially if certain risk factors exist. There were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, and the majority of those were related to opioids and synthetic opioids. Overdoses are so common with opioids because the drugs directly affect the area of the brain that controls breathing. If someone uses such a high dose of meperidine that their body isn’t able to metabolize it fast enough, respiratory depression can become so profound that the individual overdoses. During an opioid overdose, there is limited oxygen going to the brain and other organ systems, which can cause extensive damage. While anyone using meperidine or any other opioid can overdose, particular risk factors can make the chances of an overdose occurring even higher. Opioid overdose risk factors include:
- Crushing the drug to snort it or dissolving it an injecting it
- Using very high doses of meperidine or any opioid
- Taking doses more frequently than instructed
- Taking meperidine without a prescription
- Mixing meperidine with alcohol
- Using meperidine with other prescription central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines or sleep aids
- If someone stopped using opioids and then they start up again, they’re at a higher risk of overdosing because their tolerance has declined
The standard dose for medical use of Demerol is 50 mg. This quantity can be doubled to 100 mg depending on a patient’s tolerance or level of pain. Physicians advise that this dose only be taken every four hours. Any amount that exceeds 600 mg in a given day may result in an overdose.
Opioid overdoses, including those attributed to Demerol, follow a similar pattern. This is because each of these drugs acts upon the same parts of the central nervous system. Three overarching symptoms observed in most Demerol overdose victims include:
- Loss of consciousness: This is most serious sign of an overdose. The victim is unable to communicate what is hurting them or what they’re feeling.
- Slowed breathing: This symptom is referred to as hypoventilation. Respiration will be reduced or nonexistent, which may require immediate resuscitation before first responders arrive. Most fatal opioid overdoses are because of respiratory depression.
- Pinpoint pupils: seeing pupils behave in such a way can be quite disconcerting. The victim is unlikely to react to stimulus.
This triplet of symptoms is almost always observed concurrently. Each makes up a portion of an overdose recognition tool: the opioid overdose triad.
Other signs and symptoms of a Demerol overdose may include:
- Gurgling noises and inability to hold basic conversation
- Clammy and sweat-drenched skin
- Faint pulse
- Blue-colored nails, lips, and mucous membranes
- Limpness and fatigue throughout the entire body
- Nausea or constipation
- Abdominal cramps
- Convulsions or spasms
- Confusion and dizziness
The opioid overdose triad is a tool to help recognize a potential overdose. Etch it into your memory, but do not assume that each of the three symptoms must be present. A Demerol overdose can be subtle. Always get a victim to a hospital at the first sign of distress.
Naloxone, while not a traditional antidote, can suppress overdose symptoms and prevent them from getting worse. It works with every type of opioid imaginable, from fentanyl to Demerol, because it binds to the same receptors in the brain as the drugs do.
Opioid overdoses are so common that naloxone can be found in public and private places. Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are often supplied with the anti-overdose substance under the brand name Narcan. Such professionals are among the first to face an overdose situation, behind perhaps a victim’s friends or family. These individuals are even beginning to have access to naloxone themselves — a sign in itself of how disastrous this situation has become.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Demerol addiction or other opioids, helps is closer than you think. Call The Recovery Village to learn more about treatment options at experienced centers throughout the country.
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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