Demerol (Meperidine) Overdose | Dose, Symptoms, & Treatment

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on March 16, 2023

Demerol is a brand name prescription drug made with the synthetic opioid meperidine. Despite its relatively low potency, meperidine can be habit forming and addictive, as well as highly lethal in the event of an untreated overdose.

Although the synthetic opioid meperidine (meperidine hydrochloride) is as much as ten times less potent than morphine by dose, it remains a common option for providing acute analgesia and treating moderate to severe pain in healthcare contexts.

However, meperidine and its brand name formulation Demerol are also popular targets for diversion and drug abuse, which raises the potential for life-threatening overdose.

Effects Of A Demerol Overdose

Like other opioid drugs, meperidine acts as an opioid receptor agonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors in the central nervous system to reduce feelings of pain and anxiety. This is why opioid analgesics are able to effectively treat both acute and chronic pain.

However, in higher concentrations the effects of meperidine will intensify, potentially triggering a highly euphoric and addictive drug high while also slowing down central nervous system activity as a whole.

In cases of overdose, the side effects of meperidine will become so great as to interfere with the body’s life-sustaining functions, especially a person’s ability to breathe.

Demerol Dosage & Overdose Risk

Generally, adult patients taking Demerol for acute pain will receive between 50 and 150 milligrams of meperidine every 3-4 hours in either tablet form or as a liquid solution. 

However, healthcare providers may provide different doses of this medication to different patents depending on age, size, tolerance, need, and other factors.

Exceeding your prescribed dosage is dangerous and is considered a form of substance abuse that could result in an overdose. Your risk of overdose may also increase due to adverse drug interactions, including mixing meperidine with other CNS depressant drugs such as:

  • alcohol
  • benzodiazepines
  • barbiturates
  • muscle relaxants
  • anesthetics
  • sleeping pills

Symptoms Of Demerol Overdose

A meperidine overdose will impact the entire body, generating wide-ranging symptoms of opioid toxicity that may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain or spasms
  • constricted or pinpoint pupils (miosis)
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • weak or unsteady pulse and heart rate (bradycardia)
  • no pulse (cardiac arrest)
  • gasping, gurgling, or other signs of slow, shallow, or interrupted breathing (respiratory depression)
  • confusion and mental impairment
  • convulsions
  • muscle twitching
  • dizziness
  • severe drowsiness and fatigue (sedation)
  • lightheadedness
  • muscle weakness
  • blue colored fingernails or lips
  • cold clammy skin
  • itching
  • coma (losing consciousness or becoming unresponsive)

Treating Demerol Overdose

If you suspect an opioid overdose has occurred, you should immediately call 911 and summon emergency services to your location. Provide as much information as possible.

You should also administer the opioid antidote drug naloxone (Narcan) if you can. Narcan is widely available as a nasal spray, and it is carried by first responders, available in pharmacies without a prescription, and stocked in many public places.

Stay with the victim and provide first aid until help arrives. Place them on their side in the recovery position, and if they stop breathing begin administering CPR (with or without the use of an AED, if available).

Once first responders arrive, they will take over and begin providing advanced care, which can include additional naloxone doses, breathing support, additional testing, IV fluids, resuscitation, and other measures implemented by healthcare professionals.

Demerol Addiction Treatment

Despite its low potency relative to other notorious narcotic drugs like oxycodone, heroin, or fentanyl, meperidine is a controlled substance with a considerable risk for abuse as well as a high risk of addiction.

Prolonged use of Demerol may also lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms that can make recovery difficult without professional support for substance use disorder.

At Ohio Recovery Center, our evidence-based opioid use disorder treatment programs include:

To learn more about your treatment options, please contact us today.

  2. JAMA Surgery — Use of Meperidine in Patient-Controlled Analgesia and the Development of a Normeperidine Toxic Reaction
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — SAMHSA Opioid Overdose Toolkit

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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