Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller and antitussive derived from morphine. It is found in products like Vicodin, Lortab, and Hycotuss.
Since it is an opioid drug, hydrocodone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, relieving pain, suppressing cough as it slows breathing rate, and leading to pleasant relaxation that triggers the brain’s reward system and can be addictive for some people. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that, since 2009, hydrocodone drugs have been the second most frequently encountered pharmaceutical drugs seized in drug busts and presented as evidence to local, state, and federal crime labs.
In 2013, there were 136.7 million prescriptions for hydrocodone products dispensed in the United States. Since the drug was moved from Schedule III to Schedule II in 2014, making it harder to get refills of this drug, the amount of prescriptions for medications containing hydrocodone has gone down, but it is still high, with 93.7 million dispensed in 2016 and 83.6 million dispensed in 2017. Diversion of hydrocodone-based drugs primarily involves prescription fraud, stealing from friends or family, diverting one’s own medication, robberies, and purchasing from illicit websites.
As a prescription medication, hydrocodone drugs are found as tablets, both extended-release (XR) and immediate-release (IR) tablets; capsules; cough syrup; and liquid solutions in both immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (XR) forms. Extended-release versions of hydrocodone drugs are intended to relieve moderate-to-severe pain for up to 12 hours, moving slowly through the digestive system and releasing pain-killing medication for much longer than average. Immediate-release drugs can relieve pain for four hours to six hours, depending on the formula.
When hydrocodone is found as a substance of abuse, it is also typically found as a tablet, capsule, or liquid. This is because most of the abuse of this drug either begins because of a prescription or involves diverted medication. The DEA notes that illicit hydrocodone is rarely produced on its own and sold; instead, other opioid drugs may be mixed into a drug that looks like hydrocodone and sold in its place.
The most common method for abusing hydrocodone drugs is through oral consumption, although the liquid solutions may be injected. In rare cases, however, hydrocodone abuse may involve other routes, including smoking and snorting the drug. When someone who abuses an oral medication chooses other means, they intend to become intoxicated faster than they would if the drug was digested. Digestion is the slowest method for intoxication while smoking and snorting are two of the faster routes.
Snorting Hydrocodone or Other Drugs
Snorting is one of the faster methods of becoming intoxicated, but it is not the fastest. It is an easier method of drug abuse than injecting or smoking because there is little paraphernalia involved in crushing and snorting drugs compared to most other methods. When a drug is snorted, it is absorbed through the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and upper palate, where it then enters the bloodstream and is carried up to the brain. Effects from snorting a powdered drug, like cocaine or crushed hydrocodone tablets, can be felt in 2 minutes to 15 minutes. Between 30 percent and 60 percent of the drug enters the bloodstream from the mucous membranes, then the stomach.
Hydrocodone XR tablets are the most likely to be abused by snorting. Crushing them may bypass some of the time-release additives in the medication so that a large dose of the opioid can be consumed at once.
Not much paraphernalia is associated with crushing and snorting drugs, but there may be distinct side effects associated with this form of substance abuse.
- Redness around the nostrils
- Damage to the inside of the nose, leading to nosebleeds and tissue decay
- Coughing and runny nose
- Septal perforation, or a hole in the cartilage between nostrils
- If septal perforation is untreated, upper palate perforation (a hole in the roof of the mouth)
Not only does snorting drugs like crushed hydrocodone lead to nasal damage, but it can damage the throat and upper respiratory system. People who abuse hydrocodone or other drugs by snorting them are more likely to develop infections in the upper respiratory system, including pneumonia.
Smoking Drugs Like Hydrocodone
Smoking any drug, from cigarettes to hydrocodone to crack cocaine, is the second-fastest way to the brain, with injection being the only method that causes intoxication faster. The chemical enters the lungs and is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly through the alveoli, which evolved to carry oxygen to the brain.
People who smoke hydrocodone may have paraphernalia in their room or around their house. They may use air fresheners, room deodorizers, perfumes, or fabric cleaners to cover the smells associated with smoking. They may develop a chronic cough, their voice may change, or they could have more frequent colds or cases of flu because of lung infections.
There are paraphernalia associated with smoking drugs, including hydrocodone. These include:
Paraphernalia Associated With Smoking Drugs
- Cigarette wrappers
- Empty pill bottles
- Tinfoil with stains on it
Smoking or Snorting Hydrocodone Can Be Deadly
Hydrocodone is not prescribed for home use in an injectable form, and there are no legal forms of this medication that require smoking or snorting. When someone abuses hydrocodone or another drug in this manner, they are likely struggling with addiction because they are trying to become more intoxicated more quickly.
At the same time, abusing hydrocodone or other drugs by snorting or smoking them reinforces compulsive behaviors that indicate addiction. The drug binds to the brain faster, but the high also goes away faster. This may contribute to a cycle of abuse called a binge, leading to more intense cravings, tolerance, and dependence. The rapid release and crash of neurotransmitters impact mood and behavior and fundamentally change brain structures to reinforce addictive behaviors.
“If someone abuses hydrocodone by snorting or smoking it, they will appear more intoxicated more often or suffer from frequent crashes from substance abuse. They are also more likely to overdose, which may be deadly.”
Signs Of Opioid Intoxication
- Altered mental state, including confusion or delirium
- Extreme sleepiness or fatigue, including “nodding” in and out of consciousness
- Pinprick-sized pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breathing problems
- Slowed heart rate
Intoxication can lead to overdose quickly when someone abuses an opioid drug like hydrocodone. If an overdose is suspected, call 911 immediately. Signs of an overdose include:
Signs Of Overdose
- Passing out
- Extreme confusion
- Cold, clammy skin or turning blue
- Rapid mood changes, including aggression
- Repetitive vomiting
- Shallow, slow, irregular, or stopped breathing
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
Opioid overdoses are often deadly when the person stops breathing and does not get medical attention. Ingesting opioid-like hydrocodone faster, by smoking or snorting it among other methods, can cause an overdose faster than oral consumption of the drug. If you abuse hydrocodone, it is important to get help.