Vicodin (and Lortab, Lorcet, Zydone, Hydrocet, and Co-Gesic) are all a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is the opiate that we get addicted to, but harmless seeming acetaminophen presents the greatest danger to our livers as we take increasing amounts of vicodin when addicted. We need to change the ratio of medicines in each vicodin pill, and we also need to find a way to help the millions of people addicted, and taking too much vicodin each and every day.
One of the funny things about opiates is that even though they can be enormously addictive, when taken as directed, and even when abused to a certain degree, the drugs themselves are not very toxic, and do not cause many health problems of their own accord. Now of course a pain pill addiction can destroy your life and your health, and overdose, coma and death are a real possibility, but the opiates themselves are relatively safe when taken in moderation.
Vicodin is #2
Behind alcohol, the second most commonly abused drug in the US is currently Vicodin, and this potent narcotic is relatively easy to get, very addictive, and also contains enough acetaminophen within to make tolerance and addiction problematic and dangerous. The trouble with opiates is that tolerance can develop so easily, and with tolerance comes an increasing need to take more of the drug simply to achieve the same and desired effect.
So while the dosage of Vicodin as prescribed and recommended by your doctor may be very safe, and you could take this for some time without undue damage, with the high potential for abuse, addiction and tolerance, the drug becomes increasingly dangerous. The maximum recommended daily dosage of acetaminophen is 4000 mg, and you are not recommended to consume more than 1000 mg at a single dose. Some doses of Vicodin contain as much as 750 mgs of acetaminophen mixed with the synthetic codeine within per pill, and when abuse brings the need for increasing amounts of Vicodin, it’s pretty easy to exceed the maximum daily dosage of acetaminophen… and that’s bad news for the liver.
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in innocuous Tylenol, is seriously toxic to the liver in high doses, and exceeding the recommended amount in a single day can cause liver failure and ultimately death. So it seems that with Vicodin addiction, one of the greatest dangers is not the scary sounding opiate within, but the harmless seeming acetaminophen that gets ingested in increasing and dangerous dosages as time goes on. People with serious Vicodin addictions can consume 20-30 or more pills daily, and this more than doubles the maximum recommended dosage of acetaminophen; it’s even reported that one man with a severe Vicodin addiction could take as many as 100 pills per day…and it’s incredible that his liver survived and he lives to tell the story.
Make it Safer
So what’s to be done? The answer to this problem (and Vicodin addiction is a complex and serious problem that our nation needs to address) is both to reduce the availably and number of prescriptions issued for vicodin, and as well to reduce the acetaminophen content contained within each pill. In response to increasing numbers of deaths and emergency room visits as a result of acetaminophen caused liver failure, patient advocacy groups have been campaigning drug makers to reduce the amount of acetaminophen in each pill from as much as 750 mgs, to a maximum of 250 mgs per pill. By greatly decreasing the acetaminophen, addicts could safely consume three times as many pills before risking liver failure from acetaminophen toxicity.
No one recommends that people consume more than the recommended dosage of these pills, but with millions of people addicted and already taking too much Vicodin each day, we need to face the reality and minimize the harm caused. The other step that needs to be taken is simply to reduce the numbers of people prescribed this drug each day, and thereby hopefully reduce the number of people that become newly dependent on the drug. Doctor’s argue that vicodin is a safe and effective treatment for severe pain, but with the numbers that abuse it each day, I think that we need to find a better and safer alternative to this very addictive and currently easy to get drug.
I had as serious addiction to vicodin, and although I was aware of the damage potential to my liver, I regularly took more than the maximum recommended dosage of acetaminophen in my quest to get the effects I wanted from the hydrocodone. By the end I wasn’t taking the drugs for pain relief, but simply for addictions symptoms relief, and the extra acetaminophen certainly wouldn’t have been missed. We have far too many Vicodin addicts in this country, and we need better access and encouragement towards treatment to deal with the existing problem; but until we do greatly lessen the numbers addicted to this prescription medication, we need to reduce the damage that the drug is doing to the bodies of these unfortunate pain pill addicts.
Vicodin is everywhere, and it might be your neighbor, your friend or even your mom, you never know who is susceptible to the seductions of prescribed vicodin, and we need to look out for each other while we try to fix this societal problem.