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The Dangers of Snorting or Injecting Vicodin

July 2, 2022

Table of Contents

Vicodin is one of the most commonly prescribed opioid drugs for pain relief.[1] Unfortunately, snorting or injecting Vicodin is highly habit-forming and can lead to opioid use disorder (OUD).[1, 2]

Due to its wide availability, Vicodin has become one of the most regularly misused opioid medications.[2,3] While all opioid misuse is dangerous, some methods of taking it are more dangerous than others.[4,5]

This article will help you understand the many risks and dangers of snorting or injecting Vicodin.

What Is Vicodin? 

Vicodin is a combination of two drugs: hydrocodone and acetaminophen.[1] It is sometimes sold under the names Lortab or Lorcet.[6]

Hydrocodone is an opioid drug that acts as a cough suppressant and is responsible for some of the pain relieving effects of Vicodin.[7] Hydrocodone also causes feelings of euphoria and suppresses breathing.

The medication works by activating opioid receptors in the brain and spine.[7] These receptors are part of our natural pain system and are usually activated by chemicals our body produces, such as endorphins.

Acetaminophen, also called paracetamol or Tylenol, is one of the most common over-the-counter painkillers globally.[8] Despite its wide use, scientists aren’t exactly sure how acetaminophen relieves pain. 

However, current evidence suggests that it stops your brain from making the chemicals used to communicate pain.[8] In addition, acetaminophen reduces fever by targeting the part of the brain that controls body temperature.

What Is Vicodin Used For? 

Vicodin is prescribed to reduce coughing and relieve moderate to moderately severe pain, often after surgery.[1] Its painkilling effect is nearly as powerful as morphine, and it reduces coughing on par with codeine.[9] 

Pharmaceutical-grade Vicodin is sold in tablet form.[1] It takes approximately 20-30 minutes to kick in when taken as directed.[10]

On average, pain relief from a dose of Vicodin lasts around 4-8 hours.

How Do People Misuse Vicodin? 

Vicodin misuse refers to any use other than recommended by a prescribing physician.[11]

Patients who are prescribed the medication misuse it by taking too much or taking it in ways that aren’t indicated, such as snorting and injecting it. Taking Vicodin without a prescription also counts as misuse.

Is Injecting or Snorting Vicodin Worse Than Swallowing It?

Dangers of Snorting or Injecting Vicodin

When someone snorts or injects a drug meant to be taken orally, it gets into the bloodstream much more quickly.[14] The method (or route of administration) by which someone takes a drug dramatically impacts its effects.[5,12,13] 

When a pill is swallowed as intended, the drug is released as it is digested in the stomach.[14] This causes the drug’s concentration in the blood to rise slowly but steadily. When snorted or injected, blood concentrations of the drug spike rapidly, exposing the brain to higher levels of the medication than if swallowed. 

Continuously snorting opioid drugs can cause lasting harm to the nasal membrane.[15] In rare cases, snorting hydrocodone can also cause a dangerous immune response in your lungs.[15] 

Taking drugs via injection dramatically increases the risk of infections such as hepatitis or HIV.[5] Injecting an opioid drug also increases the odds of an overdose.[5]

Vicodin Side Effects

Vicodin has many side effects, which are generally worse when not taken as directed. 

Some of the most common side effects of Vicodin include:[1]

  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory suppression
  • Physical dependence and OUD

What Is Vicodin Dependence and Withdrawal Like? 

Stopping or reducing Vicodin use when someone has developed a physical dependence causes withdrawal symptoms.[16]

Withdrawal symptoms of Vicodin include:[2,16,17]

  • Cravings for the drug
  • Mood changes like Irritability and anxiety
  • Muscle spasms
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shivering and chills
  • Pain and muscle aches
  • Rapid breathing
  • Watery eyes
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Hot flushes

While cravings can occur after years, most of the symptoms of Vicodin withdrawal wear off after 7-10 days.[17] Withdrawal symptoms can be reduced with Suboxone, a less powerful opioid that lets you safely taper off use without stopping opioids abruptly.[18]

Can You Overdose on Vicodin?

Like most opioids, Vicodin is a drug with a high risk of overdose.[1,19] 

The hydrocodone in Vicodin suppresses the part of the brain that controls breathing. This risk is significantly higher when also using downers like alcohol or benzodiazepine.

A person experiencing a Vicodin overdose can still suffer irreparable brain damage even if breathing weakly.[1,19] Moreover, Vicodin can increase the chance of vomiting, which can aspirate into someone's lungs if they are unconscious.

The acetaminophen in Vicodin also contributes to overdose.[1,8] 

Acetaminophen is toxic to the liver and can cause irreversible liver damage or death at high levels. The average person is recommended to take no more than 4000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day.[1,8] 

Every Vicodin pill has 325 milligrams of acetaminophen, so even moderate Vicodin misuse by snorting or injection is dangerous. Moreover, alcohol drastically increases liver damage caused by acetaminophen.

What Does a Vicodin Overdose Look Like?

If you suspect someone is having a Vicodin overdose, look for these signs:[19,20]

  • Loss of consciousness or significantly reduced awareness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow, irregular, or stopped breathing
  • Choking sounds or gurgling sounds
  • Pale, clammy face
  • Blue-purple lips
  • Slow or irregular pulse or no heartbeat at all
  • Vomiting

A Vicodin overdose is a life-threatening medical emergency and is lethal without immediate medical care.[19,20] Most cities and states have laws protecting you from legal harm if you report an overdose.[20]

An opioid overdose can be reversed by immediate treatment with naloxone (Narcan), which comes in a spray and injectable form.[20] Naloxone is available without a prescription, and many health centers offer free doses of naloxone — no questions asked. 

Learn About OUD Treatment Options for Bicycle Health

Looking to learn more about how Suboxone can help you or your loved one stop feeling stuck on opioids? Schedule a meeting or call us today at (844) 943-2514 to see if one of Bicycle Health's online Suboxone providers might be right for you.

Lorelei Tucker, PhD

Lorelei Tucker has a PhD in Neuroscience from Augusta University and a BS in Chemistry from Georgia Southern University. Lorelei has worked as a research assistant at Augusta University and is currently working as a medical writer with The Med Writers.

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Citations

1. Habibi, M. and P.Y. Kim, Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

2. Strang, J., et al., Opioid use disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers, 2020. 6(1): p. 3.

3. Manchikanti, L., et al., Opioid epidemic in the United States. Pain Physician, 2012. 15(3 Suppl): p. ES9-38.

4. Strang, J., et al., Route of drug use and its implications for drug effect, risk of dependence and health consequences. Drug Alcohol Rev, 1998. 17(2): p. 197-211.

5. Novak, S.P. and A.H. Kral, Comparing injection and non-injection routes of administration for heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine users in the United States. J Addict Dis, 2011. 30(3): p. 248-57.

6. Street and Commercial Names. Opioids 2018  [cited 2021 December 4th].

7. Cofano, S. and R. Yellon, Hydrocodone, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

8. Gerriets, V., J. Anderson, and T.M. Nappe, Acetaminophen, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

9. Hydrocodone, D.C.D.-D.a.C.E. Section, Editor. 2019.

10. Vallejo, R., R.L. Barkin, and V.C. Wang, Pharmacology of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain syndromes. Pain Physician, 2011. 14(4): p. E343-60.

11. Bolshakova, M., R. Bluthenthal, and S. Sussman, Opioid use and misuse: health impact, prevalence, correlates and interventions. Psychol Health, 2019. 34(9): p. 1105-1139.

12. Gasior, M., M. Bond, and R. Malamut, Routes of abuse of prescription opioid analgesics: a review and assessment of the potential impact of abuse-deterrent formulations. Postgrad Med, 2016. 128(1): p. 85-96.

13. Kim, J. and O. De Jesus, Medication Routes of Administration, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

14. Quinn, D.I., A. Wodak, and R.O. Day, Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic principles of illicit drug use and treatment of illicit drug users. Clin Pharmacokinet, 1997. 33(5): p. 344-400.

15. Peyriere, H., et al., Necrosis of the intranasal structures and soft palate as a result of heroin snorting: a case series. Subst Abus, 2013. 34(4): p. 409-14.

16. Shah, M. and M.R. Huecker, Opioid Withdrawal, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

17. Withdrawal Management, in Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. 2009, World Health Organization: Geneva.

18. Kumar, R., O. Viswanath, and A. Saadabadi, Buprenorphine, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

19. Schiller, E.Y., A. Goyal, and O.J. Mechanic, Opioid Overdose, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).

20. Boyer, E.W., Management of opioid analgesic overdose. N Engl J Med, 2012. 367(2): p. 146-55.

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