Hydrocodone Overdose: Causes, Side Effects & Treatment
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Last Updated - 12/29/2022View our editorial policy
Hydrocodone overdose can lead to breathing difficulties, coma and even death, and the risk is higher when people take large doses of the drug or mix it with other drugs.
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid used to soothe coughs and treat moderate to severe pain. Like other prescription opioids, regular use of hydrocodone can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction.
It is fairly common for people to overdose on opioids like hydrocodone. A person may take hydrocodone with other opioids without understanding the potentially fatal effects these combinations can have. Others may misuse hydrocodone to self-medicate or achieve a high. Regardless, taking hydrocodone in ways other than prescribed or in combination with other drugs can cause an overdose.
Hydrocodone Overdose Statistics
On average, 41 people die each day from prescription opioid overdose in the United States, according to 2018 data. The same year, there were an estimated 1,150 fatal overdoses associated with opioids like hydrocodone in the state of Florida. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that prescription opioids such as hydrocodone were involved in nearly one-third of opioid overdose deaths in 2018.
As of 2018, 9.9 million Americans aged 12 and above had abused prescription painkillers like hydrocodone within the past year. Rates of misuse of these drugs among specific age groups were as follows:
Compared to the prior year, these statistics mark a downward trend in opioid misuse. In fact, misuse of prescription opioids has been on the decline since 2015.
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Side Effects of Hydrocodone Use
Even when you take hydrocodone at the correct dosage, you may experience side effects such as tiredness, dry mouth or headache. However, the effects of a hydrocodone overdose are more serious.
Other common hydrocodone side effects include:
With ongoing use of hydrocodone, a person may become tolerant of the drug, meaning he or she requires more and more of the medication to achieve the same effects. It is also possible to develop a dependence, meaning the body will experience withdrawal when hydrocodone use is stopped. Given the potential for tolerance and dependence, people may take high doses of hydrocodone, leading to overdose.
Causes of Hydrocodone Overdose
Taking more hydrocodone than your body can handle or mixing the drug with other substances can cause an overdose. Since it’s impossible to tell the exact amount needed to overdose, hydrocodone should only be used responsibly and as prescribed. Taking higher doses than your doctor prescribes increases the risk.
Hydrocodone works as a central nervous system depressant (CNS), and combining CNS depressant drugs can amplify their effects and cause an overdose. Combining hydrocodone with other CNS drugs also increases the risk of dangerous overdose symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, coma and death. Two substances that are commonly used along with hydrocodone include alcohol and Xanax. In both cases, hydrocodone interacts with the second nervous system depressant and creates potentially dangerous side effects, such as difficulty breathing.
Hydrocodone Overdose Effects
Hydrocodone misuse can have serious effects, including breathing problems, decreased heart rate, and even coma. Overdose is more common when people take large doses of the drug or combine it with other medications or drugs. Some of the main effects of a hydrocodone overdose include:
- Clammy skin
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed breathing
- Severe drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness
If normal breathing isn’t restored quickly enough and the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, a hydrocodone overdose could lead to brain damage. If hydrocodone is mixed with other substances, an overdose could damage other organs. In some cases, an overdose can be fatal.
Hydrocodone Overdose Prevention
Responsible use is the key to overdose prevention. Don’t take doses higher than the amount prescribed, and talk to a doctor if tolerance begins to develop. People should never adjust their dose without first speaking to their doctor.
In addition, the doctor should be aware of other drugs that are being used along with hydrocodone because certain drug interactions can lead to negative side effects and increase the risk of overdose. People should not use any other substances with hydrocodone unless their doctor allows it. Drugs to avoid when using hydrocodone include but are not limited to:
- Certain antifungal drugs
- Certain HIV drugs
- Mental illness medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Sleeping pills
- Street drugs
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What to Do for Hydrocodone Overdose
Prompt hydrocodone overdose treatment is essential for preventing death or severe long-term effects like brain damage. Doctors often use naloxone in serious cases and in situations where breathing is slow or shallow. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid drugs, so it’s able to block hydrocodone and restore normal breathing patterns. When given promptly, it can prevent an overdose death.
If the patient’s breathing is stable, doctors may use charcoal to help remove hydrocodone from the person’s stomach. Other common treatments include:
- Urine and blood tests
- Chest x-ray
- Intravenous fluids
Some patients may also require a ventilator to assist with breathing until normal respiration returns.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an opioid addiction, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and programs that can work well for your specific needs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Overdose Death Maps.” March 19, 2020. Accessed June 26, 2020.
Kaiser Family Foundation. “Opioid Overdose Deaths by Type of Opioid.” 2018. Accessed June 26, 2020.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” August 2019. Accessed June 26, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preventing an opioid overdose.” Accessed June 26, 2020.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Norco 5/325 mg.” August 2014. Accessed June 26, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio).” February 20, 2020. Accessed June 26, 2020.