Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid used for pain management. It’s often prescribed under the brand names Zohydro ER and Hysingla. Additionally, it appears in combination with medicines like Vicodin, which also contains acetaminophen (Tylenol).
When taken as prescribed, hydrocodone can be an effective pain reliever for both short-term and chronic pain. However, because it can create a euphoric or “high” feeling, some people abuse the drug by injecting it into their veins.
Health Risks Of Injecting Hydrocodone
Intravenous injection rapidly delivers hydrocodone to the bloodstream, central nervous system, and brain. It gets you high quickly but poses serious health risks and side effects.
Often, people who inject hydrocodone develop scars at the injection sites. Sometimes called “skin popping scars,” these round or oval lesions may never fade.
If you inject hydrocodone using non-sterile syringes, needles, or other injection equipment, the bacteria on the equipment could cause blisters, abscesses, or other skin infections.
Infection may also occur if you inject hydrocodone into unclean skin.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is a virus that destroys cells that help you fight off infections and diseases. When left untreated, it may lead to AIDS.
If you inject hydrocodone using needles, syringes, or other injection equipment that has been used by someone with HIV, you face a high risk of contracting the virus yourself.
This is because the infected person’s blood may linger on the injection equipment, and the virus can be transmitted via blood.
Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV can linger on a used syringe for up to 42 days.
Hepatitis C is an infection that can lead to severe liver problems. It’s caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Like HIV, HCV can be transmitted via blood. If you share injection equipment or don’t thoroughly sanitize it, you may inject infected blood and contract hepatitis C.
Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium (the interior lining of your heart). When left untreated, endocarditis can be fatal.
When you inject hydrocodone using equipment that hasn’t been properly sanitized, bacteria may enter your bloodstream and infect your endocardium.
Anyone who abuses hydrocodone (takes it in a manner not prescribed by their doctor) faces the risk of overdose.
However, people who inject hydrocodone are more likely to overdose than people who abuse the drug by other methods. That’s because injection delivers the drug to your central nervous system and brain so rapidly.
Signs of hydrocodone overdose include:
- slowed heart rate
- slowed breathing
- low blood pressure
- wider or narrower pupils
- cold, clammy skin
- muscle weakness
- loss of consciousness (coma)
Hydrocodone overdose can be fatal, especially if the person ingested other drugs such as fentanyl. If you or someone you know experiences the above symptoms, call 911 right away.
The dispatcher may instruct you to administer naloxone to the overdosing person. Naloxone is a medication that can quickly reverse a hydrocodone overdose. If you don’t have it on hand, the first responders will administer it when they arrive.
Side Effects Of Hydrocodone Injection
While not everyone who injects hydrocodone will experience the serious health risks listed above, most people will face side effects like:
- dry mouth
- swollen feet, ankles, or legs
- tight muscles
- stomach and/or back pain
- trouble urinating or frequent urination
- uncontrollable shaking
Injecting hydrocodone can also cause rarer, more serious side effects such as:
- trouble breathing and/or swallowing
- swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, or throat
- chest pain
- nausea and/or vomiting
- loss of coordination
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
Contact your health care provider if you experience these or other unusual side effects.
Many people who abuse hydrocodone (by injection or other methods, such as snorting it) become addicted. Addiction is a disease that makes a person feel unable to stop using a drug even if they want to.
Symptoms of opioid addiction may include:
- tolerance, or needing increasingly higher doses of hydrocodone to achieve the desired effects
- physical dependence, or experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit the drug
- doctor shopping, or visiting multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions of hydrocodone
- withdrawing from family and friends
- avoiding responsibilities at work or school
Treatment Options For Hydrocodone Addiction
Some people assume that because hydrocodone is a prescription drug, it’s easy to stop using. In reality, recovering from a hydrocodone addiction can be just as difficult as recovering from an addiction to an illicit drug.
If you or someone you love struggles with hydrocodone abuse or addiction, turn to a substance abuse treatment program. Available on an inpatient or outpatient basis, these programs help people slowly and safely detox from hydrocodone.
For severe opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be recommended. During MAT, some patients are prescribed medications like methadone or buprenorphine, which can ease cravings and dependence.
With MAT, patients also get therapy to aid recovery and avoid relapse. In addition, support groups, which are led by mental health care professionals, allow recovering injection drug users to share coping strategies and support each other’s journeys.
If you or a loved one is struggling with hydrocodone use, contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our treatment options.