Who Abuses Demerol? Is It Readily Available?

demerol abuseDemerol, also known as pethidine, is an opioid-based painkiller with limited medical applications and a powerful potential for abuse and addiction.

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies in the United States persuaded physicians to prescribe opioids more widely for chronic pain, claiming that the medications were non-addictive. These claims were baseless and sparked an opioid epidemic that remains unresolved in 2022.

People of all ages and demographics misuse and abuse prescription opioid painkillers like Demerol, although its use is falling out of favor. Today’s guide outlines the extent of Demerol abuse and shows you how to fight back against opioid addiction.



Demerol is a branded version of the generic medication meperidine, also known as  pethidine. A narcotic opioid analgesic, Demerol is only administered in a clinical setting.

This medication is available in the following forms:

  • Demerol syrup
  • Injectable solution of Demerol
  • Demerol tablets (50mg or 100mg)

Both the syrup and tablets are to be taken orally as prescribed. If you require the Demerol injectable, this must be administered by a medical professional.

Demerol is not as potent as morphine, but sustained use of this short-acting opioid pain reliever can lead to abuse and the development of an addiction clinically described as OUD (opioid use disorder).

The DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies Demerol as a schedule II controlled substance. Medications under this schedule have some medical utility alongside a potential for abuse. Possession of Demerol without a supporting prescription is illegal in the United States.



German chemist Otto Eisleb first synthesized Demerol in 1938, believing the substance could be an effective anticholinergic agent. Anticholinergic drugs block the action of a chemical messenger called acetylcholine. These drugs are used to treat COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and incontinence.

The analgesic properties of Demerol were recognized the following year by Otto Schaumann, another German chemist working for IG Farben.

In 1943, Demerol was approved for medical use. When compared to morphine, scientists believed that Demerol was safer, carried a lower risk of addiction, and possessed superior pain-relieving properties due to its perceived anticholinergic effects. All these assumptions were subsequently discovered to be inaccurate.

Beyond this, researchers also established that Demerol is more toxic than other opioid-based painkillers due to the way the medication produces norpethidine, a toxic metabolite. Unlike most opioids, Demerol can trigger serotonin syndrome, potentially fatal if untreated. This rare reaction can occur due to the serotonergic effects of the toxic metabolite produced.

Although pethidine is the most widely used opioid painkiller in labor and delivery, many countries like the United States now favor other opioids due to the neurotoxic metabolite of Demerol and potential adverse drug interactions.



Demerol, a semi-synthetic opioid painkiller, is typically prescribed for the treatment of moderate and severe pain. The medication delivers effects similar to the effects of morphine and oxycodone.

If prescribed to alleviate acute pain, Demerol should not be used for more than 48 hours. The abuse potential and tendency to trigger addiction, as well as the availability of superior alternatives means that Demerol is unsuitable for the treatment of chronic pain.

While most opioids prevent pain messages from traveling to the brain, Demerol has a different mechanism of action. Demerol acts on the CNS (central nervous system) and induces euphoria to mask feelings of pain.

American Pain Society states that Demerol should not be administered for pain relief, particularly in seniors. The brief duration of its effects and the way the medication produces toxic metabolites means that Demerol is now viewed as an inferior painkiller.



If you are prescribed Demerol, this can bring about many side effects, including:

  • Pale lips
  • Blue hue to skin
  • Darkening skin
  • Cold skin
  • Hives
  • Red neck, face, arms, or upper chest
  • Puffy tongue, lips, or eyelids
  • Fever
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pain when urinating
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Appetite loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of coordination
  • Jerking
  • Muscle twitching



Like all opioids, Demerol can be misused and abused.

This study shows that incidences of harmful or hazardous use of Demerol declined from 1997 to 2002. At the same time, there was a sharp increase in the rates of abuse for morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone.

Despite this general decline in the abuse of pethidine and its fall from grace within the medical community, Demerol abuse still continues in the United States and elsewhere in the world. What happens if you use this medication other than as directed, then?


One of the primary dangers of Demerol abuse occurs when the opioid is used without a prescription, particularly when consumed frequently and in large doses. This can lead to respiratory depression resulting in oxygen starvation throughout the body, multi-organ failure, and death.

Any sustained abuse of Demerol can trigger a variety of adverse long-term effects, both physical and psychological. These include:


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Brain damage
  • Hypoxia (insufficient blood oxygenation)
  • Physical dependence
  • Addiction in the form of opioid use disorder

Research indicates that opioid users are more likely to experience mental health disorders than non-opioid users.



Demerol, like all opioid-based painkillers, has the capacity to triggers physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction.

Indeed, some researchers suggest that Demerol might be even more addictive than most other opioids, due to the way the effects quickly set in and rapidly wear off, causing tolerance and dependence to form at accelerated rates.

Demerol addiction is classified as a substance use disorder, specifically opioid use disorder.

Often, an addiction to Demerol develops after a person takes the opioid painkiller as prescribed and without the intention of abusing the medication. As tolerance to Demerol quickly builds, this diminishes its pain-relieving properties.

With tolerance forming, many people take more Demerol or more frequent doses of Demerol to mitigate this. Unfortunately, this speeds up the development of physical dependence. If you become dependent on an opioid like Demerol, you will need the medication to function normally. In its absence, you will experience intense cravings for Demerol and opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Both dependence and tolerance are diagnostic criteria for addiction. That said, addiction and dependence are not synonymous. Addiction to Demerol is defined by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) as a chronic brain disorder characterized by the compulsive use of Demerol despite obviously negative outcomes. Like all addiction, though, opioid use disorder usually responds favorably to treatment with evidence-based therapies in an inpatient or outpatient setting.



The abuse of prescription opioids like Demerol spans all demographics.

According to the most recent data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), 9.3 million U.S. adults misused prescription painkillers like Demerol in 2020. In the same year, 2.3 million over-18s developed an addiction to opioids. Among these, 2 million people were aged over 26, with 269,000 aged 18 to 25.

Demerol is no longer used as a first-line analgesic in the United States. Many clinicians recommend that pethidine be removed from healthcare systems. Resultantly, Demerol is now much less readily available, whether for medical or illicit use.

When legitimate Demerol prescriptions are diverted for recreational use, people smoke, snort, swallow, or inject the drug. Street level Demerol is known as dust, D, dillies, or juice, among many other terms.

However Demerol is misused or abused, it can bring about an addiction that warrants professional treatment.



Demerol addiction responds favorably to the same treatment modalities as other opioid use disorders. Most people find that a supervised clinical detox offers the safest and most comfortable springboard for inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Detoxing from Demerol will take a week or so. During detoxification, the treatment team may prescribe FDA-approved medications capable of reducing the intensity of opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The medications can also be effective throughout ongoing therapy, reducing urges to use Demerol and promoting sustained recovery.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment) for opioid addiction is always most beneficial when delivered alongside behavioral interventions like counseling and psychotherapy (talk therapy).

When you are ready to live opioid-free, we can help you achieve this at Gratitude Lodge.



If you are addicted to Demerol or any other opioid painkiller, choose to kickstart your recovery at one of our affordable luxury rehabs in Southern California. Gratitude Lodge treatment centers are located at Long Beach, Newport Beach, and San Diego.

Each of our treatment facilities provides you with a supportive and pet-friendly environment with no distractions and no triggers for substance use. You can streamline opioid detox and withdrawal by engaging with our supervised medical detox, taking advantage of the medications listed above, as well as continuous clinical and emotional care.

For those with more severe addictions, it is possible to transition from detox into our inpatient program. Here, you will spend 30 days addressing the fierce psychological component of addiction to Demerol. If you require less structure and more flexibility, inquire about our IOP (intensive outpatient program) right here.

Regardless of the level of treatment intensity that best suits your needs, you can benefit from these services and therapies at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Holistic therapies
  • Daily meetings
  • 12-step immersion program

Access a medical detox and evidence-based opioid addiction treatment at Gratitude Lodge by calling 800-994-2184 today.