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Vicodin is a pain medication combination drug and a brand name for acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is an opioid pain medication, and acetaminophen is a less potent pain reliever that increases the effects of hydrocodone. Vicodin is used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, but the drug is commonly abused by those addicted to or dependent on pain medication. The abuse of Vicodin involves the use of the drug for non-medical reasons or using the drug outside of the prescription parameters, for example, crushing and snorting the drug or chewing the tablets.

Generally, Vicodin abuse occurs for someone who has been on the drug longer than needed or who has a history of opiate addiction. Some people increase their dose by taking multiple pills at once or altering the medication, so it takes effect more quickly. The long-term or even short-term use of Vicodin can lead to addiction and dependence. Vicodin can be used in many ways, orally, via injection, and snorting the drug. The drug is most commonly used orally in its pill form.

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How does Vicodin Affect the Mind and Body?

Vicodin is an opioid medication, and the main ingredient is hydrocodone. Generally, Vicodin does not have the same effects on everyone. Hydrocodone is an opium-derived synthetic substance and is not a true opiate. The drug is created in a lab to mimic the effects and action of morphine, a derivative of opium. Vicodin is one of the more psychoactive prescription medications that produce euphoria. Vicodin works by binding to the opiate receptors in the brain and lessens the feelings and perception of pain. Specifically, hydrocodone acts on endorphin receptors and kappa receptors in the central nervous system.

Vicodin is a central nervous system depressant that slows brain activity and affects other parts of the body. The depressant effects of Vicodin cause dizziness, drowsiness, impaired coordination, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, overdose, shallow breathing, and slowed heart rate. When Vicodin is used, it hits its peak blood plasma in over one hour. However, when the drug is crushed and snorted or chewed, the effects are more immediate. The effects of Vicodin can last four to six hours, depending on the dose. Vicodin can also have more serious effects on the body and mind when it is taken along with other central nervous system depressants.

Someone who is abusing Vicodin intravenously can experience overdose more easily since they are receiving the drug quickly and the effects are more intense. When hydrocodone is crushed and snorted, the pills can damage the nasal cavity and even cause a person to lose their sense of smell. Someone who abuses drugs this way may have frequent nose bleeds and congestion problems or recurring sinus infections. Injection drug use also increases the risk of infection and causes collapsed veins, and leads to blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.

Street names for Vicodin act as a code to fool police, parents, teachers, and other people, and there are many common street names for Vicodin. Some of the common street names for Vicodin include Vic, Vicos, Vikes, Vikings, Vees, V-Itamin, Vicogesic, and Vitamin V. Within Canada, most prescription pain medication like hydrocodone is classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The use of these drugs is legal when they are prescribed by licensed practitioners and used by the person for whom they are prescribed. The illegal possession of hydrocodone-based drugs or doctor shopping for new prescriptions can result in seven years imprisonment. Trafficking, importing, exporting, or producing opioids can result in life imprisonment.

The History of Vicodin in Canada

Canada is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and the country has a long history with drugs like hydrocodone or Vicodin being abused. Much of the problem began from a fallout with a decision made in 1996 to make opioids more widely available. Up until 1996, doctors prescribed opioids primarily for terminal cancer patients. However, in 1996, Health Canada approved OxyContin, a brand name for oxycodone, to treat moderate to severe pain in all types of patients. Doctors began prescribing OxyContin for everything from backaches to fibromyalgia. OxyContin became the most popular long-acting pain medication in Canada for more than a decade.

Combination drugs like hydrocodone and acetaminophen have been around for a long time. The first medical use of acetaminophen can be traced back to 1893. In 1920, the German pharmaceutical company Knoll synthesized hydrocodone, an opiate painkiller similar to codeine. In 1934, research began to notice that patients developed a tolerance to the drug and became addicted to it. In 1955, acetaminophen was introduced to the market under the name Tylenol and was only given as a prescription as a dose for children, while the adult version arrived six years later.

Hydrocodone eventually became a controlled substance, and in 1978, Knoll pharmaceuticals introduced Vicodin, with five milligrams of hydrocodone and 500 milligrams of acetaminophen. By 1983, generic versions of Vicodin were available, and emergency room reports involving hydrocodone increased significantly in the United States and Canada. Yet, Canada was soon to experience the fallout from OxyContin.

Within the United States during 2006, Americans were written over 130 million prescriptions for drugs containing hydrocodone. In 2009, a federal advisory committee voted to recommend the FDA ban Vicodin. Currently, the widespread use of prescription opioid medication is behind the rise of a new class of people who use drugs. Most people who are prescribed highly addictive pain medication become dependent on them and unable to break the habit. Drugs like OxyContin were not only popular with people who became addicted to it with a prescription, but also among heroin addicts—and this remains true to this day.

What are the Long-Term and Short-Term Effects of Abusing Vicodin?

The long-term and short-term effects of Vicodin vary and depend on the dose, length of time, and if other drugs are used. Drugs like Vicodin reduce pain and improve function, but there is the risk of dependence, tolerance, and addiction. Opioids work by changing the brain's perception of pain and attaching to opioid receptors throughout the body's nervous system. The immediate effects are a feeling of well-being, relaxation, and euphoria.

The short-term effects of Vicodin cause drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, and even death. Physical effects include constricted pupils, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, and sweating. Vicodin can also increase the risk of sleep apnea, mood changes, decreased sex hormone levels, and other irregularities. The long-term effects of Vicodin use lead to the development of physical dependence, which manifests as tolerance to the effects of the drug. Someone who has developed a tolerance to Vicodin must increase the amount they are taking.

Some of the other short-term effects of Vicodin include feelings of euphoria, dry mouth, headaches, flushing, mental fog, constipation, drowsiness, itching, respiratory depression, and lethargy. Other long-term effects include addiction, irregular heartbeat, increased risk of heart attack, depression, severe abdominal pain, hormonal problems, weak bones, and increased pain. Opioids also cause sedation, slowed brain activity, oxygen deprivation, and repressed respiratory function.

Vicodin Overdose, does it Happen, and How Does it Occur?

The risk of Vicodin overdose is high, especially when the drugs are abused, taken longer than prescribed, or used in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Vicodin overdose occurs when the drug is taken more often or at higher doses than recommended. Overdose also happens when the drug is taken with alcohol or other sedatives like sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, or benzodiazepines. Injection drug use increases the risk of overdose and taking Vicodin when the body is not used to the drug or switching to a higher dose.

The signs and symptoms of a Vicodin overdose include difficulty walking, talking, and staying awake. Other symptoms include blue lips or nails, small pupils, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, confusion, extreme drowsiness, choking, slow or weak breathing, and an inability to wake up. Treating Vicodin overdose requires immediate medical attention. Since 2016, there have been more than 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths. In 2017, approximately 11 lives were lost each day because of opioid overdoses. Within Canada, the opioid crisis continues to grow, and 94% of opioid overdose deaths happen by accident. Also, young Canadians aged 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.

Vicodin Addiction and Recreational Drug use in Canada

For many people prescribed Vicodin to treat pain, it is taken as needed and used for short-term use. The medication is prescribed by a physician and then used until the pain has subsided. Unfortunately, Vicodin addiction occurs easily, and many of the problems begin with misusing the medication or using the drug recreationally. The most common path to a Vicodin addiction begins when the drug is prescribed to treat pain. The Vicodin works to relieve pain, but the person taking the Vicodin begins to enjoy the euphoric effects.

The individual continues to use Vicodin to get high, even going so far as to lie to their doctor about the pain to get more of the drug. Another scenario involves taking Vicodin from family members or friends. Unfortunately, this is the most common gateway for teens and young adults who become addicted to pain medication. It often begins with experiencing the euphoric effects of Vicodin and sharing the drug among peers. In other scenarios, Vicodin becomes a substitute for another drug and is a popular substitute for heroin addicts. Heroin addiction and Vicodin addiction are similar in many ways, causing tolerance, dependence, addiction, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the common signs of Vicodin addiction include mood swings—going from feeling euphoria and positivity to despair and depression. Other symptoms involve depression, anxiety, paranoia, and poor performance at work or school. Someone addicted to Vicodin will often steal or borrow money to support the habit, stealing prescriptions from family or friends and doctor shop to gain access to new prescriptions. Vicodin addicts experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug and engage in reckless behavior, secretive behavior, and struggle with financial problems.

Vicodin Addiction Treatment and Drug Detox in Canada

Treating Vicodin addiction involves a lengthy process with withdrawal management or detox, inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, and aftercare or recovery support. Once a person has been assessed to determine the severity and extent of addiction, the first step is drug detox. Typically, because withdrawal symptoms are severe with Vicodin addiction, medically supervised drug detox is the best option. The drug detox process is best managed in an inpatient detox clinic as the body withdrawals from Vicodin. Typically, someone begins experiencing withdrawal symptoms within four to twelve hours after their last dose of Vicodin. By 72 hours, the withdrawal symptoms peak and, from there, gradually lessen for the next 72 hours.

Medication-assisted treatment is a common approach used to manage withdrawal symptoms during medical detox. Drug detox should not be considered the only approach to manage Vicodin addiction. The common therapies used include behavioral therapy. Behavioral approaches help engage people in drug abuse treatment and provide incentives for them to remain abstinent, modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse. Also, these therapies increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense cravings for drugs.

Common behavioral therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, community reinforcement approaches, motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step facilitation, and family therapies. Most drug rehab centers incorporate holistic treatment methods to focus on healing the mind and body. Other drug rehab centers are faith-based and incorporate spirituality. Well-rounded drug rehab for Vicodin addiction should heal the mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, it is important to consider aftercare support when drug rehab is complete. Common aftercare support involves sober living homes, 12-step meetings, and other forms of peer support.

According to the Canadian Drug Summary for Prescription Opioids, in 2017, opioid pain medication was used by an estimated 11.8% of the Canadian population, compared to 13% in 2015. In addition, a greater number of indigenous peoples aged 15 and older who live off-reserve reported past-year use of opioid medication compared to the general population. Overall, among Canadians who used opioid pain medication like Vicodin in 2017, about 3% reported using them for non-medical purposes.

According to the government of Canada, between January 2016 and September 2020, there were 19,355 opioid toxicity deaths. Between July and September 2020, there were 1,705 opioid deaths, and this represented a 120% increase from the same time frame in 2019. In the six months following the implementation of the COVID-19 prevention measures (April to September 2020), there were 3,351 apparent opioid toxicity deaths, representing a 74% increase from the six months prior (October 2019 to March 2020).

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the increasing number of opioid deaths in Canada. For example, the increasing toxicity drug supply increased feelings of isolation, stress, and anxiety and limited availability of services for people who use drugs. From January to September 2020, 95% of opioid overdose deaths were accidental. In addition, western Canada and Ontario continue to be the most impacted region of the country for opioid-related overdose deaths. Between January and September 2020, 85% of all opioid toxicity deaths occurred in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario.

Common Terminology for Vicodin Use in Canada

Terms Definitions
Hydrocodone Hydrocodone is a narcotic analgesic pain medication and acts on the central nervous system to relieve pain end prevent cough.
Acetaminophen Paracetamol or acetaminophen is a pain medication used to treat fever and mild to moderate pain.


Marcel Gemme, DATS

Marcel Gemme, DATS


on March 28, 2022

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