Hydrocodone is a powerful analgesic found in several prescription pain medications. It is sold as a combination drug, combined with aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These multiple ingredient formulations are sold under the brand names Lorcet, Vicodin, Vicoprofen and others.
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Hydrocodone is considered 'semi-synthetic' because it is derived from compounds found in opium that have been chemically modified. Although it is most commonly sold as a pain medication, hydrocodone also has antitussive (cough reducing) properties and is contained in some cough syrups.
Hydrocodone addiction | Opioid Addiction
Just like heroin, morphine, and other opioids, hydrocodone addiction is a serious medical matter. Withdrawal can be severe and even life threatening.
Because some people who become addicted have been taking hydrocodone for a legitimate medical purpose, a difficulty is finding another form of less addictive (or non-addictive) medication that will still help with their pain.
Availability and Hydrocodone Addiction
Products containing hydrocodone are all regulated in the U.S. and a prescription is required to buy them. However, a significant quanitity of the drug leaves the legal supply chain and ends up available for purchase on the street. Vikes (a nickname for Vicodin) are sold or traded in the drug community by those who obtain it from a regular pharmacy by way of prescription fraud, or theft. Internet operations are also popular. Some Internet ‘clinics’ will prescribe and dispense the drug with as little as an e-mail questionnaire and a credit card number.
Dependence on hydrocodone will occur with regular use. Psychological and physical addiction may take as little as 6 months. Both legal and illegal users are capable of developing tolerance and becoming addicted to hydrocodone. The addiction symptoms signs are increased use and the appearance of withdrawal symptoms when usage is reduced.
Other signs of hydrocodone addiction include increasing dosage without medical advice or supervision, hoarding to ensure an adequate supply and taking the drug without onset of pain (just to feel ‘normal’). Seeing multiple doctors for multiple prescriptions – all for essentially the same drug – is a common practice among addicts.
Problems specific to hydrocodone preparations
One problem for addicts is the other ingredients in the pills. To lessen the risk of addiction, the drug is only sold in combination with other medications. It is arguable whether having Tylenol in Vicodin helps alleviate pain, but it serves to put it in a lower class of controlled substances. Instead of being classified as strictly as morphine or other opiates (Schedule 2), these drugs are classified as Schedule 3 which comes with fewer restrictions.
While regular users will develop tolerance to the opiate (hydrocodone) that requires taking more pills, the other ingredient (acetaminophen) is increased beyond safe levels. Overdose from hydrocodone is rarer than overdose from whatever the other ingredient is. For this reason, some addicts will dissolve the pills in warm water, hoping to remove at least part of the Tylenol they contain.
photo by Paul Bodea