“If you have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, you can find a place and you should be able to find a place, and I want substance abuse put on the same level. It saves people’s lives. There’s nothing more important. Save somebody’s life. Give somebody a second chance.”
~ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at a forum in Boston
Hydrocodone is a synthetic opioid typically used as a cough suppressant or pain reliever. The most common brand names containing hydrocodone are Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. The good news is that these medications are very effective when properly prescribed and used. The bad news is that they are often improperly prescribed and abused.
Like all opioids, hydrocodone carries with it a very high potential for abuse, addiction, and eventually, death due to overdose. They are particularly addictive and dangerous when taken improperly, either by mistake or deliberately for the euphoric effect.
It is even possible to become addicted to opioids such as hydrocodone when taking the medicine exactly as prescribed. This is especially problematic because some estimates purport that more than 100 million Americans are currently suffering from chronic pain.
How bad is prescription opioid abuse in the United States in general and in Idaho in particular?
According to the International Narcotics Control Board, over 99% of the world’s supply of hydrocodone is consumed in the United States. Let that number sink in for a moment, and you will understand why some experts have called opioid addiction a “man-made epidemic”.
Look at some of the staggering statistics –
- In 2012, US doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
- To put that number in perspective, that is enough prescriptions to give every adult in the country their own bottle of pain pills.
- Between 1999-2013, deaths due to drug overdoses more than doubled.
- 120 people per day die from an overdose of prescription opioid painkillers.
- More people die from the abuse of prescription opioids than from heroin and cocaine combined.
- In over half of the country’s states, drug overdoses kill more people than car accidents.
- Substance abuse treatment centers now admit seven times more people for opioid addiction than they did just a decade ago.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, the misuse of prescription opioid pain medication costs American insurance companies over $72 BILLION a year.
- Among individuals aged 12 or older, the state of Idaho is ranked FOURTH in the country for the non-medical abuse of prescription opioid painkillers.
- One out of every five Idaho high-schoolers has used prescription medication without a prescription.
- The rate of drug overdose deaths in Idaho has doubled in the last 15 years.
- Someone in Idaho dies because from abusing a prescription drug every 45 hours.
Hydrocodone is a commonly-prescribed medicine. Is it really that bad?
That’s precisely the problem – it’s actually OVERPRESCRIBED. Again, look at the scary statistics –
- In 2009 alone, more than 111 MILLION prescriptions of medications containing hydrocodone were written.
- Just one year later, hydrocodone was the most-prescribed drug in the United States, with over 131 MILLION
- There are over 200 prescription medications containing hydrocodone.
- Hydrocodone is very powerful – 15 milligrams is equivalent to 10 milligrams of morphine.
- According to some statistics, hydrocodone accounts for more than 60% of all drug addictions.
What are the dangers of hydrocodone addiction?
When considering the dangers of hydrocodone abuse and addiction, thought should be given to both the short-term and the long-term effects.
Short-term effects include:
- a change in how the user perceives pain
- a heightened sense of well-being
- decreased feelings of stress or worry
Those are the intended effects, but there are also a number of side effects that can manifest, including:
- constipation, up to the point of bowel obstruction
- inability to urinate
- dizziness/a headache
- extreme fatigue
- muscle weakness
- sleeping difficulties, including nightmares
- irregular heartbeat/slowed breathing
- allergic reaction, including swelling and rashes
Over the long-term, a person heavily using or abusing hydrocodone can develop a tolerance, which means that more of the drug is needed to get the same euphoric effect. Unfortunately, this also means that the side effects can be exasperated.
- Bodily functions such as heartbeat and breathing can be suppressed to the point of death
- Hearing loss
- Liver damage and scarring
- Addiction and all the problems that come with it
So is it dangerous to withdraw from hydrocodone? What are some of the symptoms?
Unlike other substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, detoxing from opiates such as hydrocodone is relatively safe, although it can be unpleasant.
Some of the symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal are:
- stomach pain/diarrhea
- alternating sweats and chills
- confusion – difficulty concentrating
- unpredictable mood swings
- insomnia, or, alternately, extreme yawning and drowsiness
- a “crawling” sensation on the skin
- excessive sneezing
- irresistible drug craving
Withdrawal symptoms can begin just a few hours after the last dose and the most severe symptoms will begin to peak at approximately 72 hours. All told, it takes approximately one week to completely detox from hydrocodone.
To ease the symptoms, a gradual “tapering off” of the dosage under medical supervision is recommended. This helps the central nervous system slowly readjust to ever-decreasing amounts of the hydrocodone until the drug can be comfortably discontinued.
There are also medications that can be prescribed to alleviate the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. Because these medications can themselves be addicting and must also be tapered, their use should only be reserved for cases of severe dependency.
What do I do if I – or someone I love – have an addiction to hydrocodone?
If hydrocodone addiction is present somewhere in your life, it is imperative that person addicted gets immediate help. Addiction is a disease that only gets worse if its progress is not arrested. It is also an incurable disease, which means that new behaviors and ways of thinking are needed to develop the tools to effectively manage and minimize its effect upon your life.