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Vicodin FAQs

From a former NFL player who spent more than $584,000 on his 125-per-day Vicodin habit to average people all over the world, Vicodin use can lead to addiction. The good news is that addiction can be prevented with vigilance and diligence on the part of physicians and individuals. While Vicodin addiction is not easy to overcome, many people including former NFL player Shane Olivea are able to kick this drug. Below are a few Vicodin facts to dispel myths and provide insights on this dangerous painkiller.1

Is Vicodin an Opiate?

Vicodin, Vicodin ES and Vicodin HP are prescription opioid medications used for the relief of moderate to moderately severe pain. Opiate is an older term used for drugs derived from opium, although the word is still used in clinical context with withdrawal. The term opioid now encompasses the entire family of opiate drugs including illicit drugs like heroin and synthetic or semi-synthetic prescription drugs.2 There are four broad classes of opioids:

  • Endogenous opioid (endorphins naturally produced in the body)
  • Opium alkaloids (e.g. morphine and codeine)
  • Semi-synthetic opioids (e.g. heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and buprenorphine)
  • Fully synthetic opioids (e.g. methadone, with structures unrelated to the opium alkaloids)2

What Is Vicodin Used for?

Vicodin is closely associated with wisdom tooth extraction and other periodontal surgery. It is prescribed for the management of any pain not well-controlled by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory or other non-narcotic analgesic options. A recent study showed more than 50% of narcotic painkillers prescribed after wisdom teeth removal go unused. Translated to the broad U.S. population, these findings suggest more than 100 million opioid pills prescribed to patients following surgical removal of impacted wisdom teeth are superfluous, leaving the door open for possible abuse or misuse by these individuals, friends or family members. In fact, previous studies have found that many people who abuse painkillers take extra pills prescribed for friends or relatives.3

How Does Vicodin Work?

Like all opioids, Vicodin binds to opioid receptors (protein molecules located on the membranes of some nerve cells) found principally in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. The drug produces an analgesic effect to alleviate moderate to moderately severe pain, but can also produce euphoria, which can lead to abuse and addiction.2

Is It Dangerous to Take Vicodin With Sedatives?

Mixing prescription opioid painkillers with popular sedatives known as benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium and Xanax) can cause a fatal overdose. If benzodiazepines are combined with opioid medications such as hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin) or oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin), a drug interaction can occur, potentially resulting in coma or death. Nearly one in three unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids also involve benzodiazepines. This is particularly disconcerting because the number of people prescribed both an opioid pain reliever and a benzodiazepine increased by 41% between 2002 and 2014, which equates to more than 2.5 million people concurrently taking opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires “boxed warnings” on 389 different products to warn healthcare professionals and the public about this potentially lethal drug interaction.4

  1. Former NFL Player Shane Olivea Kicks 125 Vicodin-Per-Day Habit. The Fix website. https://www.thefix.com/former-nfl-player-shane-olivea-kicks-125-vicodin-day-habit Published January 10, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2017.
  2. Opiates/Opioids. The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment website. https://www.naabt.org/education/opiates_opioids.cfm Accessed January 24, 2017.
  3. Countless Opioid Pills Unused by Dental-Surgery Patients. HealthDay website. https://consumer.healthday.com/bone-and-joint-information-4/opioids-990/countless-opioid-pills-unused-by-dental-surgery-patients-715185.html Published September 27, 2016. Accessed January 24, 2017.
  4. Mixing opioids and popular sedatives may be deadly. HealthDay website. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mixing-opioids-oxycodone-and-popular-sedatives-xanax-may-be-deadly/ Published September 1, 2016. Accessed January 24, 2017.
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