Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
You may think opioids only include drugs like heroin that you find on the streets, but in fact, you can find prescription opioids all over the United States in medicine cabinets. Zohydro contains hydrocodone, an addictive opioid that appears in more homes than you think.
Zohydro consists of pure hydrocodone in an extended-release pill. Doctors generally prescribe it when a patient has constant severe pain that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Patients must take great care when using it because it has harsh side effects and a high potential for dependence.
The mildest side effects of Zohydro include:
Unless these symptoms worsen or don’t disappear, they don’t indicate any danger. But, if you have any of the following symptoms, you could be experiencing an overdose or withdrawal:
Many patients keep naloxone, an opioid overdose medication, on hand — just in case. Emergency responders can use it to reverse the breathing problems that cause a lethal overdose.
The FDA approved Zohydro in 2013 with plenty of objections from advocates against the opioid crisis because it contains a much larger amount of hydrocodone than most opioids. While it has an extended-release design that slowly administers the medicine, abusers can easily crush and alter it to get more of the medicine at once. Zohydro’s manufacturers did modify the pill to become a gel when smashed, but it still has highly addictive properties.
Nearly 99 percent of hydrocodone abuse in the world happens in the United States. As the most commonly prescribed opioid in the country, physicians wrote 140 million hydrocodone prescriptions in 2010 alone. Since hydrocodone drugs like Zohydro are so readily available, it’s not hard to believe you can find it illegally, too.
However, many hydrocodone addictions happen to patients who have a prescription. Some experience euphoria and relaxation when they take a hydrocodone painkiller, making them more likely to take more than recommended. Accidentally taking too large of a dose or taking it too frequently can also cause addiction. Zohydro and other types of hydrocodone can make it easy to build tolerance or dependence, whether it’s used properly or not.
Even when manufacturers try to create opioids that discourage abuse, well-meaning patients and active abusers alike still get addicted. We need solutions that replace — or at least reduce — opioid use, as well as reliable treatments for opioid and hydrocodone addiction. What if there was a drug that could do both?
A large-scale study that involved nearly 3000 patients found that most subjects used marijuana medicine to lower or eliminate their opioid dosages — 97% could take smaller doses, and 81% felt medical cannabis was more effective than opioids in the first place.
In a review of literature on cannabinoid and opioid interactions, Scavone et al. discovered that cannabis could be used to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms, too. Cannabinoids, the natural components found in marijuana, impact similar parts of the brain to opioids. Since cannabis has less dangerous side effects than opioids, it can satisfy cravings without causing harm.
Opioid drugs like Zohydro cause widespread danger to patients all over the United States, but we have hope in medical marijuana.
To learn more about medical marijuana and opioid addiction, read our guide to opioid addiction treatment with cannabis.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: