Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
The opioid crisis is all around us — even in places where we wouldn’t expect. If you’ve never taken opioids for medical reasons, you may be surprised to find they’re frequently prescribed. Doctors often write prescriptions for drugs like Lortab, sometimes unknowingly contributing to the opioid addiction epidemic. Addiction doesn’t just involve illegal drugs like heroin — patients taking their prescriptions can experience it, too.
Lortab consists of two drugs meant to relieve pain. It has hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller and acetaminophen, an over-the-counter drug. Doctors usually prescribe hydrocodone combination drugs like Lortab for moderate to severe pain. While this mix of drugs can lessen pain, it can also cause harmful side effects. Acetaminophen can cause symptoms like:
Hydrocodone symptoms include:
In extreme cases, a patient can overdose on hydrocodone and stop breathing entirely, requiring rescue medication. Lethal overdoses involving opioids like hydrocodone are actually due to the lungs collapsing. Patients who experience symptoms like chest pain, breathing problems and intense drowsiness could be experiencing an overdose.
Since Lortab has both acetaminophen and hydrocodone, it can cause any of the symptoms listed above.
While you can’t get addicted to the acetaminophen in Lortab, the hydrocodone poses a large risk of dependence. To relieve pain, hydrocodone targets the part of your brain that controls feelings of pain and pleasure. This effect not only can result in hard-to-resist euphoria and calm, but it also makes your brain reliant on the hydrocodone. Instead of making its own pleasure chemicals, your brain depends on the pill to regulate your mood.
Even patients who take their medicine as directed can become addicted to Lortab. When taken for an extended period, it builds up in the body, increasing the user’s tolerance. This higher tolerance can result in misuse involving higher or more frequent dosages.
Lortab treatment has such a small margin of error that even minor accidents can result in dependence and abuse. And unfortunately, doctors commonly prescribe it, with opioids and Lortab being some of the most frequently prescribed medications in the United States.
The addition of acetaminophen can make Lortab even more harmful than pure hydrocodone medications. Acetaminophen can damage the liver and kidneys when used excessively. If an addict keeps taking combination drugs with acetaminophen, they can experience severe liver failure.
One of the solutions to the opioid epidemic and Lortab addiction is right under our noses. Medicinal cannabis could reduce or eliminate many patients’ reliance on the drug. As an effective yet safe painkiller, it can do the job of opioids without lethal symptoms like organ failure. In some cases, marijuana can get rid of the need to take opioids entirely. Using cannabis medicine in addiction treatment can also lower cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Plenty of high-quality research highlights medical marijuana’s ability to prevent and treat opioid addiction. In a study of almost 3000 patients, 97 percent stated that they could lower their opioid doses thanks to marijuana medicine. Eighty-one percent of the opioid group also felt cannabis worked better than opioids.
A literature review of studies on cannabinoids and opioids supported the idea of using cannabis medicine to reduce cravings. It also included data showing cannabis components provide the chemicals the brain is missing without the harmful side effects.
For more information on medical cannabis and opioid dependence, read our condition guide.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: