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Dangers of Hydrocodone (Norco)

The dangers of hydrocodone abuse include liver damage, respiratory issues, depression, and overdose.

Hydrocodone and Norco

Norco combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Both drugs are pain relievers, and the hydrocodone component is an opioid.
Doctors prescribe Norco when someone is in moderate to severe pain, such as that related to a broken bone or after surgery.

Hydrocodone can produce a pleasurable euphoria and calm social anxiety. These effects can cause some people to want to take the drug when it is not prescribed. Tolerance builds quickly, so there is a high risk for addiction and other serious side effects.

Common Side Effects

 These common side effects are possible whether or not hydrocodone is being used as prescribed or being abused.

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Upset stomach
  • Blurry vision
  • Trouble urinating
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in mood
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears

Other Possible Side Effects

Chest Pain

If someone is experiencing chest pain due to hydrocodone, this could indicate an overdose. It may also occur as a result of the irregular heartbeat that can sometimes happen due to hydrocodone misuse or an overdose.

Other heart-related issues have been observed with the use of hydrocodone and other prescription opioids. Some of these issues could also produce chest pain as a possible symptom.
These cardiac issues include:

  • Depressed heart muscle function, especially when the person is taking opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time
  • Vasodilation which is when the blood vessels become dilated
  • Bradycardia which is a slowed heart rate
  • Atrial fibrillation, which is a type of irregular and rapid heart rhythm
  • Ventricular tachycardia, which is a type of abnormal and fast heart rhythm
  • Buprenorphine and methadone are most often linked to this issue
  • Infectious endocarditis, which is an infection most often seen in people who intravenously inject hydrocodone and other opioids

Depression

Hydrocodone and other opioids affect the brain and can sometimes cause depression, especially among people who are abusing this type of drug.
One study looked at depression among people who were prescribed opioid pain medications. There were more than 100,000 people observed in this study. All of them were prescribed opioids for a pain condition, such as headaches, arthritis, or back pain.

Prior to being prescribed opioids, none of the participants had been diagnosed with depression. The researchers discovered that of the more than 100,000 participants, approximately 10 percent developed depression after using their prescribed opioid for more than one month.

Abuse of opioids has also been linked to an increased incidence of bipolar disorders and anxiety.
The study with the 100,000 participants was not looking at people who abused the drugs, but people who took them as prescribed. It is theorized that abuse could make the risk of depression even higher.

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Liver Damage

Since Norco can also contain acetaminophen along with hydrocodone, high doses may result in liver damage. If someone is using Norco regularly and getting approximately four grams of acetaminophen daily; as a result, they may experience liver damage.

The liver is essential for filtering medications and removing what could cause medical issues from the body. When the liver is damaged due to acetaminophen, it is not able to function at the right level. This can result in a variety of symptoms.

  • Swelling and pain in the abdomen
  • Itching
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow eyes and skin
  • Ankle and foot swelling
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, tar-colored, or bloody stools
  • A tendency toward easy bruising

Respiratory Depression

The depressant effects of hydrocodone can affect respiration. This is potentially life-threatening because the person experiencing it may stop breathing completely.

Even when they are still breathing, a low respiration rate can cause damage due to the body not having sufficient oxygen and having too much carbon dioxide.

If respiratory depression happens in ongoing episodes, it may lead to right-sided heart failure as a result of pulmonary hypertension.

Various pill bottles full of norcos next to each other

In the most severe cases, respiratory arrest, or complete cessation of breathing, can occur.

Seizures

People who have a history of seizures may not be able to take hydrocodone safely.  It may increase the risk of having seizures in the future.
The more of this drug someone is using, the higher their risk of a seizure. Drinking alcohol with hydrocodone might increase the risk of seizure even more.

Overdose

Abusing hydrocodone puts people at risk of experiencing an overdose. The symptoms of hydrocodone overdose include the following:

  • Changed level of consciousness
  • Skin that is clammy and cold
  • Feeling generally uncomfortable
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Complete loss of consciousness
  • No movement of the body or muscle tone
  • Severe sleepiness
  • Stopped heart or breathing
  • Unpleasant breath smell
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Increased sweating
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • No pulse or blood pressure
  • Very slow heartbeat
  • Decreased urine production

Every suspected hydrocodone overdose should be treated as a medical emergency. Without prompt treatment, an overdose may be fatal.

Anyone who has experienced these or other serious effects should consider seeking treatment for opioid use disorder. Continuing to use hydrocodone will increase the risk of more serious consequences and overdose-related issues, including death. 

Sources

Vicodin. RxList. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/vicodin-side-effects-drug-center.htm

Hydrocodone. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/hydrocodone

Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen (Oral Route). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/hydrocodone-and-acetaminophen-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20074089

Depression and Opioid Use. Psycom. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.opioid.abuse.html

(June 2012) Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Their Association with Non-Medical Prescription Opioid Use and Prescription Opioid Use Disorder. Psychological Medicine. Retrieved April 2019 from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21999943

(November 2018) Can Opioids Cause Heart Problems? Verywell Health. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.verywellhealth.com/can-opioids-cause-heart-problems-4134144

(August 2017) Respiratory Depression (Hypoventilation). Healthline. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/respiratory-depression#complications

Acetaminophen. LiverTox. Retrieved April 2019 from https://livertox.nih.gov/Acetaminophen.htm

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