Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller, derived from morphine, that is legal for use. It is a Schedule II drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This is because hydrocodone, like many other opioid drugs, has an important medicinal use, but also a high potential for abuse.
Why Is Hydrocodone Addictive?
This medication stops pain signals by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. This organic system produces its own natural opioids when a person is injured or in pain, but the chemicals do not bind to these receptors for very long. To help people heal from moderate or severe pain from surgery or injury, or to help people dealing with chronic pain from conditions like cancer or osteoarthritis, hydrocodone and other opioid drugs were developed. However, liberal prescribing practices in the early 2000s have led to an opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Thousands of Americans currently struggle with addiction to narcotics, including hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone is designed to be taken orally; however, people who struggle with addiction to this narcotic medication may find ways to experience a more rapid and intense high from the drug. For some people, this means ingesting larger doses of the drug; other people may find different ways to experience intoxication. One method used to induce a high more rapidly is to crush and snort hydrocodone.
Why Is Snorting Hydrocodone Dangerous?
Taking a pill orally is the slowest route to the brain, while crushing and snorting hydrocodone brings faster results. The drug is absorbed through the thinner nasal lining and into the bloodstream without going through the digestive system. With a more rapid delivery system, it is easier to become addicted.
Medical professionals warn that hydrocodone should not be snorted under any circumstances. However, people who are struggling with addiction to hydrocodone may turn to this delivery method to force larger doses to act faster on their opioid receptors.
In addition to the side effects, there are several potential dangers when hydrocodone is snorted. Serious risks of abusing hydrocodone by crushing and snorting it include:
- Higher risk of overdose: Because hydrocodone is absorbed into the bloodstream more rapidly, the same dose a person would take orally can take effect much faster when snorted. This means that a regular oral dose can cause intoxication, side effects, and overdose more rapidly. Signs of narcotic overdose include clammy or blue-tinged skin, pinpoint pupils, confusion, and falling unconscious.
- Dependence and addiction: If a person abuses hydrocodone or other narcotics recreationally, and snorts these drugs, they are more likely to become physically dependent on or addicted to the substance, due to the rapid onset and the effects on the brain’s reward system.
- Infection from contamination: Snorting a drug means it must be crushed, and surfaces and objects used to do this can be contaminated with microorganisms. Since drugs damage the nasal tissues, throat, and upper respiratory system, microorganisms can get into these areas more easily and lead to infection. One report noted that hydrocodone abuse through snorting led to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a lung condition exacerbated by drug abuse and infection. It is essentially an inflammation of the internal structures of the lungs in response to allergens, toxins, and microorganisms introduced into the upper respiratory system.
- Severe damage to nasal tissue: One study found that 77 percent of participants who appeared for medical treatment between 2004 and 2011, and who abused hydrocodone by snorting it, had active necrosis, or dead and dying nasal tissue; 51 percent had perforations in their septum, or the tissue between nasal passages; and 26 percent had perforations in their palate, or the tissue and bone separating the mouth and nasal cavity. Two people involved in the study developed fungal infections that spread rapidly, and one died from the infection.
Snorting Hydrocodone Leads to Addiction
Snorting is becoming one of the more common methods of nonmedical use of opioid drugs, including hydrocodone. A study of 212 participants in Kentucky found that urban residents struggling with illicit narcotics addiction preferred oral ingestion, while rural residents preferred snorting as one of the methods of ingesting hydrocodone. Another study, which was a collaboration between Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Nova Southeastern University in Miami, studied 3,500 people spanning 160 separate drug treatment programs across the US, and found that one-quarter of hydrocodone abusers crushed and snorted the tablets.
Regardless of how hydrocodone is ingested, it is important to get help to overcome this addiction. People who struggle with opioid addiction are at risk of brain damage, long-term physical damage to other organ systems, overdose, and death. It is important to detox with medical supervision and enter a rehabilitation program that can offer therapy to understand the root causes of the addiction.