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Side Effects of Demerol Use

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Man holding Demerol

Is Demerol Harmful?

The use of Demerol and other prescription opioids is widespread. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers, per the Centers for the Disease Control (CDC). The CDC estimates that enough prescriptions were written in 2012 for every adult in the United States to have at least one bottle of pills.

Demerol is a prescription opioid painkiller with effects similar to the illicit opiate drug heroin, including the production of a pleasant, euphoric state in those who use it. Demerol is a branded formulation of the generic drug meperidine. It comes in tablet and liquid form. The tablets are sometimes crushed and snorted or injected by those seeking to enhance its already potent effects.

Demerol and other opioids are frequently prescribed because they effectively alter how the body senses pain. Unfortunately, however, most prescription opioids have a known potential for abuse and dependence and are often misused or diverted for profit.

Demerol and other opioid painkillers can be harmful when used without a prescription, and especially so if consumed in larger amounts and/or more frequently than prescribed. One of the greatest problems associated with abusing opioid drugs like Demerol is the risk for respiratory depression and overdose. Respiratory depression is a characteristic, dose-dependent response to the use of opiates like heroin and, in a similar manner, the prescription opioid painkillers—when severe, it can result in an inadequate delivery of oxygen throughout the body and may lead to multi-organ failure and death.

Short-Term Effects

As a broad class of drugs, opiates have an analgesic, or painkilling, effect on the body that can bring about a sense of relief, especially to people who are experiencing relatively severe pain.

In addition to these painkilling effects, Demerol and other opioids can bring about a sense of euphoria that is extremely pleasurable and may promote abuse. These opioids lead to pleasure and euphoria because they act on the reward centers of the brain. Demerol users may take high doses of the drug, snort or inject it, and/or mix it with other drugs in order to amplify its effects.

Those who need the painkiller for legitimate medical reasons may find themselves taking more and more of the drug over time to compensate for any tolerance that has developed, and to otherwise intensify the effects—a pattern of drug use that can fast lead to dependence on the substance and addiction.

DWoman with Demerol side effects

In addition, Demerol intoxication is associated with one or more of the following short-term effects:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Slowed movement.
  • Slowed pulse rate.
  • Slowed breathing.

Using Demerol with other drugs and alcohol may increase the likelihood of experiencing harmful effects.

Side Effects

Even when taken as prescribed, Demerol can result in some undesirable side-effects. If you are using Demerol, side effects you may experience include:

  • Drowsiness and intermittent “nodding off.”
  • Impaired cognition / confusion.
  • Pupillary miosis, or pinpoint pupils.
  • Vision changes.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Sweating.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Hypotension.
  • Lowered body temperature / cold extremities.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation.

More severe side effects of Demerol that may be dangerous include:

  • Uncontrollable shaking of the hands.
  • Twitching or muscle stiffening.
  • Skin problems such as hives or rashes.
  • Urinary retention.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Arrhythmias.
  • Difficult, slowed breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Seizures.

Demerol Overdose

Each day, approximately 46 people die of an opiate overdose, according to the CDC. The signs of a Demerol overdose include:

  • Cold and clammy skin.
  • Bluish tinge to lips, tongue and nail beds.
  • Loss of muscle strength.
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate).
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Vertigo or dizziness.
  • Syncope or fainting.
  • Coma.

Seek emergency help immediately if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else.

Long-Term Effects of Abuse

Abusing Demerol may lead to serious long-term effects on the brain and body such as:

  • Hypoxia (inadequate oxygenation of blood and tissues).
  • Brain damage.
  • Psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Physical dependence.
  • Addiction.

Research has found that opiate users are more likely to experience common mental health disorders and problem drug use than non-opiate users (Sullivan et. al, 2006).

No one should have to live with addiction. Learn how to find help.

Dependence on Demerol

Demerol users may become physically and psychologically dependent to the drug, and may eventually become addicted to the substance. Addiction involves using drugs despite negative consequences — such as health, legal, and relationship problems — as well as compulsive drug-seeking.

Restless man

Those who have developed a physiologic opioid dependence will experience the onset of mild-to-severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping or decreasing the amount of the drug being used. Dependence can occur even when taking an opiate as prescribed by a doctor.

If you experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop or cut down use, you are likely dependent on the substance.

While developing a dependence on Demerol can be distressing, medical treatments are available to ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Continue reading below for more information.

Demerol Withdrawal Treatment

Demerol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and may begin within hours of the last dose. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness and agitation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Goose bumps.
  • Increased tearing of the eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

Demerol withdrawal can be painful, and symptoms may range from mildly to extremely uncomfortable. In most cases, withdrawing from opiates like Demerol is not dangerous. In rare cases, however, vomiting and diarrhea associated with withdrawal can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, people with existing heart issues may experience complicated withdrawal and should be closely monitored by a medical professional.

Medications, overseen by a health professional, may be used to minimize withdrawal symptoms and ease discomfort in some cases:

  • Methadone is an opioid agonist that can be substituted for the drug being abused, to be more safely dosed and monitored, and to decrease cravings and provide the stability many need to commence with addiction treatment. It may only be administered at specialized clinics. Methadone may be used as a long-term maintenance treatment for opiate dependence or gradually tapered over time.
  • Buprenorphine can decrease withdrawal symptoms and cravings and can also block the effects of other opiates. As a partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine produces similar but weaker effects when compared to opiate drugs.
  • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the pleasurable effects of Demerol to promote abstinence.
  • Clonidine is typically prescribed for high blood pressure, but when prescribed for opiate withdrawal, it can help reduce some, but not all, withdrawal symptoms. Clonidine may be combined with other medications to treat symptoms like insomnia and muscle and bone pains.

For more information on the process of safe detox from Demerol, see our Overview on Painkiller Detox page. For help getting off Demerol, call for free at now. We can help you find the right program for you today.

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Emily Guarnotta holds a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. She has a passion for working with clients struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. Her treatment approach includes providing evidence-based practices in a supportive and non-confrontational manner.

Emily's experience also includes working with college students, clients with severe mental illness, and delivering crisis intervention services.

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