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Demerol (Meperidine) Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau, MSCP, LPCI, NCC

April 1, 2019

Demerol is a fast-acting opioid that has high potential for abuse and addiction, even at prescribed doses.

Demerol Addiction

Many people do not realize that they can become addicted to prescription medications like Demerol. What begins as a treatment for severe pain, can quickly escalate into addiction, especially if the person abuses Demerol.

Abusing Demerol, or taking it in ways that it is not prescribed, can rapidly develop into tolerance. Demerol tolerance is indicated by the need to take more Demerol to feel the same pain relieving effects as previous doses. Continuing to abuse Demerol at this point increases risks for physical dependence.

A person who is physically dependent on Demerol will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking Demerol. At that point, the body depends on Demerol in order to feel capable of normal functioning. This can easily lead to Demerol addiction, and an individual begins to engage in damaging behaviors to maintain Demerol abuse.

Demerol addiction can reveal itself in many ways, a person may begin frequenting emergency rooms, or going to multiple doctors in an attempt to get more Demerol. They may exaggerate or fake symptoms at these appointments as well. Sometimes the person will even steal or ask others for their Demerol, or other opioid painkillers.

Additional behaviors of a person struggling with Demerol addiction may include:

  • an excessive amount of time or money spent on finding and using Demerol
  • avoiding situations where Demerol cannot be used
  • neglect obligations or responsibilities (relationships, job, school)
  • using Demerol even after acknowledging the negative impact it has on one’s life
  • increased isolation from loved ones
  • cravings and withdrawal symptoms emerge without Demerol

Demerol addiction, like other opioid addiction, is quite difficult to stop without assistance. The withdrawal symptoms are painful and, in some cases, seem unbearable. Luckily, there are substance abuse treatment programs that help ease these symptoms.

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What Is Demerol?

Demerol is the brand name of meperidine, which is an opioid painkiller. When it was originally created, in 1937, meperidine was advertised as a safer alternative to other, similar drugs, like morphine. However, this has been proven to be untrue.

Demerol is not significantly more effective or safer than other opioids, and in fact, has unique side effects that make using Demerol complicated. Meperidine has several severe medication interactions and increased risk for serotonin syndrome. Medication interactions with therapeutic doses of meperidine have resulted in fatalities.

Meperidine also metabolizes into normeperidine in the body. High levels of normeperidine in the body are toxic and can be fatal without treatment. Normeperidine toxicity occurs when a person takes Demerol over extended periods of time.

Demerol is usually used in hospital settings, and should only be used to treat acute pain that is moderate to severe. It is strongly recommended that meperidine is not used to treat chronic pain.

Demerol Statistics

  • In New York, Libby Zion developed serotonin syndrome as a result of medical staff administering meperidine on top of her daily antidepressant, resulting in a fatal cardiac arrest. She was 18
  • Street names for Demerol include dillies, demmies, D, and dust
  • Prescription opioids are involved in over 40% of opioid-related deaths
  • Nearly 400,000 people have died from an opioid overdose from 1999 to 2017

Demerol Abuse

There are many ways a person can abuse Demerol, and often it begins with a prescription to manage pain. When a person experiences the relief that an opioid painkiller gives or the euphoric side effects, this can encourage them to take Demerol in a way that was not prescribed.

Individuals have reported abusing Demerol in the following ways:

  • doubling, or increasing a dose
  • taking a dose early
  • taking Demerol for longer than prescribed
  • breaking a Demerol pill open and swallowing it
  • crushing and snorting Demerol pills
  • chewing a Demerol pill
  • dissolving and injecting Demerol

Abusing Demerol in any way can lead to addiction. Modifying Demerol in any of the ways mentioned above can change how meperidine is delivered to the body, which can result in accidental overdose.

Demerol Overdose

When a person takes too much Demerol, it increases the risk of overdose. There are many warning signs of a Demerol overdose, including:

  • weak muscles
  • clammy skin
  • unable to stay awake
  • pinprick pupils
  • weak pulse
  • hypothermia
  • respiratory depression (or failure)
  • coma
  • death

A person who overdoses on Demerol may also experience symptoms of normeperidine toxicity, which include:

  • irritability
  • agitation
  • twitching
  • jerking
  • grand mal seizures
  • intestinal spasms

If a person is taking Demerol and experiencing the above symptoms, seek emergency medical attention. While many EMS modes of transport are equipped with Narcan to reverse opioid overdose, treating normeperidine toxicity or even serotonin syndrome can require specialized interventions. It is important to communicate with emergency personnel that the person has taken Demerol specifically, so they can respond appropriately.

Demerol Treatment Options

Demerol is an opioid, therefore a person struggling with Demerol addiction is encouraged to find a substance abuse treatment facility that is approved to offer opioid treatment programs at their location.

These facilities assess the individual needs of each client and develop a treatment plan that outlines their services. Starting with a medically supervised detoxification program that helps to ease withdrawal symptoms with other medications and therapeutic interventions.

After completing detox, residents are encouraged to follow their individualized treatment plan and attend substance abuse treatment. These locations also offer vocational and educational services, medical treatment, and aftercare planning.

Sobriety is attainable. An opioid-free life is an option. Reach out to our addiction specialists today to get help for you or your loved one.

Nursing Journal - Recognizing Normeperidine Toxicity

American Journal of Therapeutics - Meperidine: A Critical Review

Food and Drug Administration - Demerol label

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Opioid Overdose

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