“Happy pills” or “vikes” are the seemingly carefree way some people refer to the serious opioid hydrocodone. This may be an unconscious way to refer to it frivolously, thereby minimizing the fact that they are misusing a prescription medication and perhaps have developed an addiction to it. This casual attitude underscores the serious, possibly deadly, threat to their health.

Why Is The Drug Hydrocodone Prescribed?

Hydrocodone (often most recognized by brand name Vicodin®) is an opioid drug used for pain relief over an extended period and is also used as a cough suppressant for adults. It changes the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It is often combined with acetaminophen, another pain reliever that increases the effects of hydrocodone.

In addition to Vicodin, it may be sold under the following brand names: Hycet®, Lorcet®, Lortab® 10/325, Lortab® 5/325, Lortab® 7.5/325, Lortab® Elixir, Norco®, Verdrocet®, and Xodol®.

Hydrocodone Typical Dosage

Typical adult dosage is one or two caplets every four to six hours not to exceed eight in one day or in liquid form as an elixir, 11.25 milliliters (mL) every four to six hours as needed, not to exceed 67.5 mL per day. Children’s dosages will be determined by their doctor.

Hydrocodone in its extended-release form is taken twice a day at 12-hour intervals.

This information is important to consider because if you have been prescribed the medication and find you are using more than your dosage allows, you should seek guidance from your doctor. This is the time to be open about your experience with the medication to avoid overdose and keep from moving into addiction.

If you have been handed the pills from a friend or a drug dealer, you may be completely unaware that the levels you are taking are putting you at severe risk for overdose, aside from the fact you are taking them without medical supervision.

The prescription is usually missing the packaging insert, known as Multum leaflets, which are independently written and approved apart from the drug manufacturer. Oftentimes somebody’s first instinct may be to toss it aside to get to the medication. Who has time to read something in an 8-point font that might seem like gibberish? The label has all you need to know, right?

This Multum leaflet has important information though and should be viewed as such. It’s a tell-all for the consumer to be aware of the drug description, possible interaction issues, potential side effects, and full instructions for use, including what to do if a dose is skipped or potential overdose precautions.

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Why Does Someone Misuse Hydrocodone? And How?

Hydrocodone is often misused because people enjoy the euphoria feeling they experience, even if the prescription was given for pain relief by their doctor. Other people may feign an injury to receive the medication through a pharmacy-filled prescription approved by a doctor.

Since the medication is for short-term use only, once the doctor stops refilling the medication for its initial purpose, the patient is left with no drug, and therefore no access to their euphoric state in which they have become accustomed. They often get frantic and will then turn to “doctor shopping,” to get multiple prescriptions filled (which is becoming increasingly difficult) or pursue getting their pills through dealers.

If they have access to the extended-release capsules, they may take them more frequently than the 12-hour recommended dosage to get a faster euphoria high. That high doesn’t come without a price in the way of side effects due to hydrocodone’s impact on the central nervous system.

Opioid misuse like hydrocodone addiction is a public health crisis in the United States and as such, the Food and Drug Administration is committed to encouraging health care professionals to raise awareness of the availability of naloxone when they are prescribing and dispensing opioid pain relievers or medicines to treat OUD.

What Side Effects Can Someone Experience With Hydrocodone?

The most common side effects are

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also note these additional symptoms:

  • Tolerance—meaning you might need to take more of a medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence—meaning you have symptoms of withdrawal when a medication is stopped
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Nausea and dry mouth
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Itching and sweating

Mixing alcohol or taking any medications that contain alcohol, or using street drugs during your treatment can increase the risk of life-threatening side effects.

It may seem strange, but it is also recommended to avoid grapefruit juice, cabbage, and tobacco if using hydrocodone.

You should not be chewing, crushing (for sniffing hydrocodone), or dissolving extended-release tablets, as it could cause you to receive too much at one time. Women who take hydrocodone while pregnant should share this information as the baby may be born with withdrawal symptoms that could be life-threatening.

Slowed Breathing Indicates Possible Overdose

Opioids have serious risks, including

  • Misuse from not reading the Multum insert or not using as directed
  • Misuse from taking too high of a dose or using when not prescribed for you
  • Addiction which can occur mentally by wanting more or physically by becoming used to the dosage
  • Overdose for a multitude of reasons related to dosage, including slowed breathing
  • Death from poison toxicity or slowed breathing

Indications of Overdose

  • Slowed, shallow, or difficult breathing
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Pinpoint eyes
  • A bluish tint to lips or nails
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Severe sleepiness, or not being able to respond or wake up

There are antagonists to reverse an opioid overdose, such as the most-recognized naloxone (Narcan®). Talk to your health care professionals about the benefits of naloxone and how to obtain it. This is a mature question that would be expected by a doctor and shows you care for your health with such a serious medication.

Recognizing the opioid epidemic and finding ways to fight the deadly overdose statistics have led to many local, state, and national regulations to allow access to naloxone. The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that 77 people were seen in emergency rooms for opioid-specific reasons. The numbers don’t tell the stories behind the people, unfortunately.

For example, how many people did not go seek medical help because they were scared? Or, how many were there as a result of being administered the life-saving drug Narcan? It is important to remember statistics help, but real people are behind them.

In 2015, the Texas Health and Safety Code established guidelines for increased access to naloxone and other antagonists (drugs that can reverse an opioid overdose) to

  • A person at risk of an opioid-related drug overdose
  • A family member, friend, or another person who can assist in an overdose.
  • Organizations (nonprofits and drug treatment centers), in order to distribute naloxone to others who can assist
  • Any person allowed to possess it who “acts in good faith and with reasonable care may administer with immunity from criminal prosecution, civil liability, and sanction under professional licensing statutes.”

Naloxone can be administered either through a nasal spray (2mg/2mL) or injected (0.4mg/1mL) but is temporary and lasts between 20 and 90 minutes, according to harmreduction.org. Repeated doses may be required. Emergency medical help should be immediately pursued.

The premise behind making these antagonists more available is that there is always hope for someone with a substance use disorder. Removing stigma will happen when communities make it more acceptable to seek treatment for substance use disorder and make quality treatment programs more readily available at all income levels.

This is because it is becoming more and more pervasive in the stitching that makes up our society’s fabric. Anybody can become addicted to a substance, whether it is a more palatable form such as wine, by accident such as being unaware of prescription side effects, or recreational in its inception—OxyContin® was meant to make a party “more fun.”

Hydrocodone Overdose

It could be the college friend who started misusing his Adderall® to keep up his grade performance while working 30 hours and taking 16 credit hours.

It could be your sister who used to light up a room with her smile and now you never see her because she’s ashamed of the needle tracks on her arms.

It could be the son who saw his mom’s liquor stash in the linen closet and started taking some nips of his own out of curiosity.

It could be the dad who needed the pain medication to get to work, so he could collect his paycheck and provide for his family.

Because the background of each person can be so varied, it is important to get treatment through a provider who can provide individualized care for mental health and substance use disorders designed by licensed professionals. Vertava Health Texas makes its treatment available on-site and online to get you the care you deserve, when and how you need it.

Hydrocodone Overdose Care Includes Detox, Support, And Relapse Prevention

Detoxification is the first step to help with withdrawal symptoms. While the list of possible symptoms is long, not all people will experience each one.

Withdrawal symptoms include

  • Restlessness
  • Teary eyes or runny nose
  • Sweating and chills
  • Hair standing on end
  • Widened pupils
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Back, joint, or muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Sleep disruption
  • Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Fast breathing
  • Increased heartbeat

What Does Detox/Withdrawal From Hydrocodone Feel Like?

Severe withdrawal side effects can usually be prevented by gradually reducing the dose over some time before treatment is stopped completely. We provide medically-supervised detox treatment at Vertava Health Texas, followed by clinically-proven therapy techniques providing excellence in care by our clinical team. We offer a full continuum of care and a planned approach to relapse prevention and patient resilience. Vertava Health Texas, formerly the Treehouse, believes recovery is tough, and so are you. Call us at 877-318-2084.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Hydrocodone Causes An Overdose?

Typical adult dosage is one or two caplets every four to six hours not to exceed eight in one day or in liquid form as an elixir, 11.25 milliliters (mL) every four to six hours as needed, not to exceed 67.5 mL per day. Children’s dosages will be determined by their doctor.

Hydrocodone in its extended-release form is taken twice a day at 12-hour intervals.

An overdose can occur when the drug is taken at a higher dosage or more frequently than doctor-approved or both. Slowed breathing that can lead to coma, brain damage, and death could result.

What Does A Hydrocodone Overdose Feel Like?

A person experiencing an overdose may notice they have shallow, short breaths, feel light-headed and confused, find it difficult to breathe, and feel uncontrollably sleepy. To an observer, they may notice the person become unresponsive and their pupils are as small as pinpoints.

How Long Does It Take To Overdose On Hydrocodone?

Generally, an overdose happens in minutes not hours. The same is true of naloxone as a short-term method to revive. It is short-lived and emergency treatment should be received.