The opioid epidemic has rocked our nation with jaw-dropping opioid-related drug overdose deaths in every single one of our fifty states. Federal and state officials have been scrambling to develop new solutions and strategies to reverse the morbid trends that continue to skyrocket, especially on the eastern coast. But how did the issue with prescription opioid painkillers begin?
Opiate painkillers were originally and mostly used for post-surgery patients and situations of extreme pain. But during the 1990’s, certain medical professionals approved opiate painkillers to be used for not only those purposes mentioned above but also for patients suffering from chronic pain. When this major change occurred, prescriptions for chronic pain started to rise, showing a significant year-to-year increase that has continued to climb. Some believe that hydrocodone was the main opioid being prescribed that started it all.
What is hydrocodone?
It is in the family of drugs known as opiate analgesics (painkillers). Opiates or as they are also known, opioids, are derived from the opium poppy plant and are very powerful pain relievers. Hydrocodone-acetaminophen is slightly less potent than actual hydrocodone but can increase its strength and effectiveness. Hydrocodone is most commonly distributed under the brand names Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. These brand names are combinations of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.
Hydrocodone can be found in over 200 different commercial drugs and is used to treat moderate to severe pain and also used to suppress coughs brought about by the flu or colds.
When someone takes an opiate drug, especially for the first time, the drug attaches itself to the numerous opioid receptors throughout the body. We also have opioids in the body that occur naturally and are meant to calm us down, they also manage the pleasure and reward systems in the brain.
When you take opioid painkillers, such as hydrocodone, your pleasure system experiences a huge rush of a chemical known as dopamine, which is a major neurotransmitter. Dopamine sends signals to the neurons of the body and tells them to create elevated levels of pleasure or feelings of euphoria that is most commonly referred to as a “high”.
Hydrocodone Side Effects
This powerful narcotic comes alongside many short term and long term side effects despite its pain relieving qualities. With prolonged use, there can be a myriad of unwanted, negative side effects and risk of addiction.
The short-term effects are mainly to curb pain by directly modifying the pain signals in the central nervous system. The short-term effects include:
- Reduced feelings of stress and worry.
- Increased sense of well-being.
- Reduced pain.
The side effects are not so pleasant in nature. Some users only experience the milder side effects when they take hydrocodone, while others may have more severe reactions that require medical intervention. Some of many side effects include:
- Feelings of dysphoria and anxiety.
- Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
- Headaches and muscle aches.
- Problems with sleeping and nightmares.
- Fatigue and drowsiness.
- Widespread muscle weakness.
- Itchiness which can lead to skin abrasions when over-scratched.
- Bowel obstructions.
- Respiratory / breathing issues.
- Problems with urination.
- Severe allergic reactions can also occur such as hives, rash, itching or swelling.
- Slowed or irregular heartbeat.
With continued use of hydrocodone, a tolerance begins to build up in the body and the effect that it creates on your central nervous system and opioid receptors lessen, meaning more of the drug becomes necessary to experience the same desired effect. Tolerance can happen faster than you may think. In some cases, tolerances were noticed within just a few times of taking the drug.
With each use, your body goes through a physical change as the drug takes its effect and over time your brain and body become reprogrammed to operate using the drug and a physical dependence is formed. Once this point is reached, addiction is just around the corner. Addiction is by far the worst long-term side effect of hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone is a narcotic opioid drug, similar to that of morphine and heroin. And like all other opioid drugs, it is highly addictive. These types of substances are particularly high risk because even when taken as prescribed by your doctor, you can still develop an addiction. Addiction isn’t always a choice. No one receives a prescription from their trusted health care provider thinking they will develop a dependence, but unfortunately it happens more often than not.
Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
When someone has developed an addiction to hydrocodone they will spend more time, effort, and resources on acquiring more to maintain their physical and mental addiction. Their lives can begin to unravel and managing other parts of their life, including their loved ones, can become increasingly difficult. Anyone with a hydrocodone or other opiate-based addiction should seek a treatment program that will help them achieve a life of sobriety. There are many treatment options available that will help you all the way through and help to ease the withdrawal process.
Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Nausea and/ or vomiting.
- Muscle and joint pain.