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Tramadol Facts, History, and Statistics

Tramadol is a type of opioid most widely prescribed as Ultram and Ultracet to treat moderate levels of pain. In this article, we’ll talk about what Tramadol is, what it’s made of, and what it’s used for. We’ll review tramadol’s brand/generic names and talk about whether tramadol is classified as a controlled substance.

Additional article topics include:

  • History of tramadol.
  • Effects of tramadol misuse and addiction.
  • Tramadol and the law.
  • The dangers of tramadol.
  • How to find tramadol addiction treatment.

Tramadol Facts and Information

If you or a loved one are using tramadol and have questions, the following sections will help provide important facts and information on the opioid, tramadol.

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is an opioid analgesic that was approved for marketing in the United States in 1995.1

What Is Tramadol Used For?

Tramadol is most often prescribed to treat moderate levels of pain involving dental, osteoporosis, and neuropathy in both acute and chronic settings. It is also approved for treating cancer pain in periods less than 3 months.

What Is Tramadol Made Of?

Tramadol is thought to be safe due to lower risk of tolerance, abuse, and dependence, but it has lower clinical value than other opioids. The drug has only about one-tenth of the pain-reducing qualities of morphine.

Tramadol stands apart from other opiates for 2 reasons:

  1. Tramadol is a fully synthetic drug, which means that it is man-made and does not occur in nature. This is in contrast to morphine and codeine – which are natural opiates derived from the opium poppy. It also differs from drugs like hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone which, while also semi-synthetic and made in a laboratory, still retain some natural qualities.
  2. Tramadol has an uncommon, dual-acting benefit. Tramadol works as an opiate in the expected way to manage the perception of pain, but beyond that, it allows increased availability of two other neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain called norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine is noted for its ability to improve concentration, and serotonin manages an array of functions including sleep and mood.

Brand Names and Generic Names for Tramadol

Tramadol is an oral, opioid pain-relieving drug that is marketed under a variety of trade names–with Ultram being the most widely prescribed and recognized. Tramadol is also available as Ultram ER and Conzip, as well as Ultracet when it is combined with acetaminophen.1,2

Is Tramadol a Controlled Substance?

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, tramadol is classified as a controlled substance in Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act.1

History of Tramadol

Compared to other drugs and medications, tramadol is relatively young. The drug was created in 1962 by a German drug company that specializes in treating pain. The medication was tested for 15 years in Germany before being approved and brought to the foreign market in 1977 under the name Tramal. The drug was a success for the company.

Tramadol is widely prescribed around the world for pain relief. However, it was not until 1995 that the drug became available in the U.S. Now, the medication is popular in America.

As the above graph shows, prescriptions climbed rapidly from 2008 until 2012. During that 5-year period, 14 million more prescriptions of the substance were filled.

Misuse of Tramadol

Even though the drug is thought to be relatively safe due to its low potential for misuse, addiction to tramadol has been a growing problem in the U.S. and around the world.

According to results from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 1.6 to 1.8 million Americans reported past-year misuse of oral tramadol (any use; alone or in combination with another drug).3

Researchers found a commonality between those who misuse tramadol.4 In about 95% of cases, individuals who misuse the medication are people have prior history of other substance misuse.4 This means that people with prior addictions may be more likely to misuse tramadol.

Overall, the problem of people misusing opiates and other pain relievers in the U.S. is a major problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 600,000 deaths were attributable to drug use in 2019.5 About 80% of these deaths were related to opioids, and roughly 25% were caused by opioid overdose.5

Side Effects of Tramadol

When someone uses tramadol, it may produce effects similar to other opiates including:

  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • Feeling numb or detached from one’s body.
  • Feeling lethargic and heavy.
  • Feeling relaxed and calm.
  • Inability to feel pain.

Tramadol may produce several other effects:1,6

  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Respiratory depression, which can lead to coma or death.
  • Sleepiness.

Long-term effects of tramadol use and misuse may include:1

  • Tolerance.
  • Dependence.
  • Addiction.

How Dangerous Is Tramadol?

Like other opioids, a dangerous side effect of tramadol is respiratory depression. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other CNS depressants can exacerbate this effect and lead to coma and death.6

As mentioned above, tramadol use and misuse may lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.1 Overdose can also occur and is more likely if the opioid is being misused or taken inappropriately, e.g., illicitly, taking more tramadol than prescribed.

Three signs and symptoms are commonly present during an opioid overdose:5

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Pinpoint pupils.

If you suspect that someone is experiencing a tramadol overdose, call 911 immediately.

Tramadol and the Law

Tramadol is legal when taken as prescribed, but there have been some changes to its status.

Beginning in 2007, Arkansas moved tramadol to a Schedule IV substance. In 2008, the state of Kentucky followed with the same move.

It was not until 2014 that the DEA began to monitor and restrict tramadol by classifying it as a schedule IV drug on the national level. The schedule IV classification means:

  • The drug serves a medically necessary purpose.
  • It has a low risk of abuse compared to schedule III drugs.
  • Prescriptions and refills are monitored and restricted.

Legal Penalties of Using Tramadol

The rescheduling of tramadol to a schedule IV substance brings with it higher punishments for illegal possession, sale, and use:

  • Possessing the substance can result in misdemeanor or felony charges.
  • Some states can impose a 5-year sentence for having tramadol without a prescription.

How to Find Tramadol Addiction Treatment

Treatment interventions exist for opioid dependence, but less 10% of people who need such treatment are receiving it.5

If you or someone you know is concerned about the use of tramadol and need help to stop, help is available. Tramadol addiction treatment may include inpatient or outpatient care, as well as various types of aftercare such as ongoing behavioral therapy.

To get started, search the directory to locate a rehab near you, or instantly check the coverage offered by your health insurance provider.

If you would like to speak with an American Addiction Centers (AAC) admissions navigator to learn about tramadol addiction treatment options available in your area, call for a free, private consultation today.

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