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Shooting Hydrocodone, Lortabs, or Vicodin Dangers and Side Effects

Shooting Hydrocodone, Lortabs, or Vicodin Dangers and Side Effects

Misusing prescription drugs or taking them without a prescription is always dangerous, and may lead to addiction, major complications, and in some cases, a fatal overdose. Sometimes the way that a person uses a drug adds to the dangers of being addicted to the substance. Using needles to shoot or inject hydrocodone can contribute to a number of devastating and lasting consequences.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Syringe and pills

Hydrocodone is a semisynthetic opioid that’s prescribed by physicians for pain. In its chemical form, it’s often combined with other medications to relieve discomfort associated with chronic or acute pain. Its widespread availability in hundreds of prescription formulas means that there are endless pharmacological combinations of the drug.1

Hydrocodone is a Schedule II drug. Recent legislation now includes hydrocodone derivatives as Schedule II drugs. These drugs are categorized as Schedule II because they have a high potential for misuse and can lead to addiction.18

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Hydrocodone is an opioid agonist. This means that when it binds to the opioid receptor, it results in a chain of events that ultimately modifies an individual’s perceived pain level. There are a few different types of opioid receptors in the body. These include Mu receptors, Delta receptors, and Kappa receptors. Hydrocodone primarily affects Mu receptors. Hydrocodone is metabolized primarily in the liver but is also cleared from the body in the kidneys.

Where Do People Get Hydrocodone?

Prescription drugs

Those addicted to hydrocodone often receive their drugs from either legitimate or forced prescriptions filled in pharmacies across the country.5 Also, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over 50% of all people who misuse hydrocodone get their drugs for free from friends or relatives.6

Widespread Use of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone misuse is one of the most prevalent addiction crises in the U.S. It’s the most frequently prescribed pain medication, which makes it widely available to addicted users. In 2013, physicians wrote more than 136 million prescriptions for hydrocodone and hydrocodone combination products (HCPs).1-3 Of opioid drug users, hydrocodone users are more likely to take the drug orally than to inject or snort.5

Women and Hydrocodone

Among women, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid19

Recent reports show that a quarter of all women enrolled in Medicaid have been prescribed hydrocodone at some point.19 Pregnant women who abuse hydrocodone place not only themselves but their unborn children at serious risks. These include low birth way, premature delivery, high mortality rate, birth defects, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).20

NAS occurs when the fetus is exposed to opioids in utero. Once born, these newborns experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal includes tremors, excessive crying, gastric distress, and sweating.22

Some studies have shown it’s possible for women to safely detox during pregnancy, but relapse rates are incredibly high.21

Abuse of Hydrocodone

The way a drug is taken directly impacts how quickly it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Most hydrocode is taken orally, but for some addicts, this isn’t enough. When swallowed, most people will take far more than is prescribed for pain, putting themselves at risk for developing liver damage.

Some users choose to inhale or inject the drug to get high faster. Shooting is one of the most common alternatives to orally ingesting hydrocodone. First, pills are crushed, then dissolved in water. Then the solution is injected into a vein, muscle, or just below the skins’ surface. Injecting is incredibly dangerous because this method delivery a potentially fatal dose of the drug. When taken in large doses, the acetaminophen found in hydrocodone can cause severe liver damage.7

Research shows that among rural users, snorting hydrocodone is the preferred method of use.8 Men are much more likely to crush and snort opioids versus women, though there’s no clear indication why this is the case.8,9

At Risk Populations


There are a variety of populations who are at greater risk for hydrocodone abuse.

Elderly Patients

Elderly populations are at risk for hydrocodone abuse because this group most often visits physicians with complaints of achy joints and muscle pain. Though the elderly might not shoot up hydrocodone, 43.5% of all drug-related ER visits stem from a result of taking too much hydrocodone.23

Since this population is already at risk for mobility issues, abuse of hydrocodone can have disastrous results. These include impaired vision, impaired coordination, and an increase for the likelihood of falls.24


Teens may be at an increased risk for developing an addiction to hydrocodone and HCPs, since these are some of the most commonly abused drugs.25 Studies show that 4% of all high school students report using hydrocodone recreationally in the past year.26 Further research has shown that high school users of hydrocodone are often white males and are lower performers in school with a greater risk of developing Hepatitis C.27

Young injection drug users have a higher incidence rate of Hep C, making up 30% of all new cases.28 This is because young drug users are more likely to share non-sterile needles. A study of 791 opioid users showed that users between ages 18-24 were more likely than other population groups to use dirty needles to inject hydrocodone.29

The Consequences of Hydrocodone Use

There are many consequences to hydrocodone use. Opioids are depressants, so they slow heart and breathing rates along with brain activity. Side effects from opiates also include a reduced sex drive and a lack of appetite. Nausea is a known side effect of hydrocodone. The drug activates the chemoreceptor trigger zone that sends signals to the body’s vomit center.10

In addition to feelings of nausea, hydrocodone can also cause constipation because of the effect the drug has on the opioid receptors inside the stomach. Users often experiencing varying degrees of drowsiness after taking or abusing hydrocodone.11

Long-term Abuse of Hydrocodone

Long-term use of hydrocodone and HCPs can cause more serious side effects, including the following:


If drugs are used on a regular basis, the body’s tolerance to these drugs will increase, meaning it will require more of them to produce the same results. This can lead to a physical dependence as well as a mental reliance on the drug.

Other Serious Physical Side Effects

Some of the long-term effects of hydrocodone and its derivatives include the following:12-14

  • Chronic constipation and bowel dysfunction.
  • Coma.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Permanent brain damage.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Slowed breathing and lower oxygen levels.
  • Liver damage.

Risky Behavior

Hydrocodone has been shown to lower inhibition in people. That means that addicts are more likely to engage in risky behavior patterns. Research has shown that almost 30% of all people who inject opioids use shared needles. Even more alarming is that over 20% of users have sex without protection.15

These behaviors can put people at risk for developing infections like AIDS/HIV along with other viral and bacterial illnesses.

Gateway Drug to Heroin Abuse

Regrets from risky behavior

Shooting hydrocodone is often a gateway to using heroin, since users become desensitized to the idea of injecting drugs intravenously. Research shows that this is a common transition. Almost a quarter of all hydrocodone addicts eventually matriculate to heroin use.16

Addiction Treatment Facilities

When you are ready to get your life back on track and want to start considering your treatment options, it will be helpful for you to be aware of a few of the different treatment facility types that are available to you.

  • Luxury treatment facilities provide residential addiction treatment in addition to an array of plush, resort-like amenities that can make your recovery process extra comfortable.
  • Executive treatment facilities also offer residential addiction treatment alongside high-end amenities, but these facilities also provide the resources and structure that allow busy professionals to maintain an active involvement in the workplace throughout the recovery process.
  • Standard treatment facilities offer quality addiction treatment in both residential (“inpatient”) and non-residential (“outpatient”) settings. While these facilities do not offer the same variety of high-end amenities as do luxury and executive programs, they do come at lower, more affordable prices for those on more of a limited budget.


  1. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2014). Office of Diversion Control.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits.
  3. Whistler, J. L. (2012). Examining the role of mu opioid receptor endocytosis in the beneficial and side-effects of prolonged opioid use: from a symposium on new concepts in mu-opioid pharmacology. Drug and alcohol dependence,121(3), 189-204.
  4. U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2014). FDA approves extended-release, single-entity hydrocodone product with abuse-deterrent properties.
  5. Cicero, T. J., Ellis, M. S., Surratt, H. L., Kurtz, S. P. (2013). Factors influencing the selection of hydrocodone and oxycodone as primary opioids in substance abusers seeking treatment in the United States. Pain,154(12), 2639-2648.
  6. (2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  7. (2016). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  8. Young, A. M., Havens, J. R., Leukefeld, C. G. (2010). Route of administration for illicit prescription opioids: a comparison of rural and urban drug users. Harm reduction journal7(1), 1.
  9. Back, S. E., Lawson, K. M., Singleton, L. M., Brady, K. T. (2011). Characteristics and correlates of men and women with prescription opioid dependence.Addictive behaviors, 36(8), 829-834.
  10. Chau, D. L., Walker, V., Pai, L., Cho, L. M. (2008). Opiates and elderly: use and side effectsClinical interventions in aging,3(2), 273.
  11. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Hydrocodone and acetaminophen (oral route).
  12. Ho, T., Vrabec, J. T., Burton, A. W. (2007). Hydrocodone use and sensorineural hearing loss. Pain Physician, 10(3), 467-72.
  13. University of Utah Health Care, Pain Center. (2017). The Real Problem of the Opioid Epidemic: Bad Pain Treatment.
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Misuse of Prescription Drugs: What are the possible consequences of opioid use and abuse?
  15. Darke, S., Hall, W., Carless, J. (2006). Drug use, injecting practices and sexual behavior of opioid users in Sydney, Australia. British Journal of Addiction, 85(12), 1603-09.
  16. Brands, B., Blake, J., Sproule, B., Gourlay, D., Busto, U. (2004). Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatmentDrug Alcohol Depend, 73(2), 199-207.
  17. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2014). Schedule of Controlled Substances: Rescheduling of Hydrocodone Combination Products From Schedule III to Schedule II.
  18. Crane, E. H. (2015).The CBHSQ Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Narcotic Pain Relievers. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Opioid prescription claims among women of reproductive age — United States, 2008–2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
  20. Zuckerman, B. (1991). Drug-exposed infants: understanding the medical risk. The Future of Children, 1(1), 26-35.
  21. Bell, J., Towers, C. V., Hennessy, M. D., Heitzman, C., Smith, B., Chattin, K. (2016). Detoxification from opiate drugs during pregnancyAmerican Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 214(1), S68.
  22. Patrick, S. W., Schumacher, R. E., Benneyworth, B. D., Krans, E. E., McAllister, J. M., Davis, M. M. (2012). Neonatal abstinence syndrome and associated health care expendituresJAMA 307(18), 1934-40.
  23. Substance Abuse and Mental Administration: Administration on Aging (AOA). (2012). Older Americans behavioral health – issue brief 5: prescription medication misuse and abuse among older adults.
  24. Leipzig, R. M., Cumming, R.G., Tinetti, M.E. (1999). Drugs and falls in older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis: I. Psychotropic drugs. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 47(1):30-39. 16
  25. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.
  26. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2019). Prescription Pain Medications.
  27. McCabe, S. E., Boyd, C. J., Teter, C. J. (2005). Illicit use of opioid analgesics by high school seniorsJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28(3), 225-230.
  28. Lankenau, S. E., Kecojevic, A., Silva, K. (2015). Associations between prescription opioid injection and Hepatitis C virus among young injection drug users. Drugs (Abingdon Engl), 22(1), 35-42.
  29. Surratt, H., Kurtz, S. P., Cicero, T. J. (2011). Alternate routes of administration and risk for HIV among prescription opioid abusersJournal of Addictive Diseases, 30(4), 334-341.

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