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What is Meperidine?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Meperidine is a high-strength prescription painkiller that works similarly to morphine. It is an opioid that sedates the nervous system and desensitizes the body to pain. Meperidine is highly effective in relieving acute and chronic pains when it used correctly under the direction of a doctor. There is a potential for abuse and addiction with the drug, so physicians are very careful to review their patients' histories and explain proper use in detail before prescribing it.

Also known by its most popular brand name Demerol®, meperidine binds to opioid receptors throughout the central nervous system. It blocks nerve activity that would otherwise trigger pain sensations in the presence of an injury, inflammatory condition, or chronic illness. The drug also has a sedative effect on smooth muscle tissue throughout the body, which reduces or stops muscle spasms.

Meperidine is available in oral tablet, liquid solution, and intravenous injection forms. A doctor will consider many factors before prescribing the drug to make sure it will be safe and effective. The patient's specific ailments, age, medical history, and current medication use are all important considerations. People who have histories of prescription or illicit drug abuse and those with allergies to opioid medications are generally not good candidates for meperidine. Most adult patients are instructed to take between 50 and 150 milligrams of the drug three to four times a day until their conditions improve.

A number of side effects can arise when taking meperidine, but they are usually mild. A patient may have dry mouth, headaches, lightheadedness, temporary dizzy spells, and nausea. Since the drug affects the smooth muscle tissues of the lungs and heart, it is possible to experience shallow breathing and a slowed heart rate. Allergic responses may be characterized by itchy skin rashes and swelling in the mouth and airways. It is important to report any side effects to the prescribing doctor to determine if dosage amounts need to be adjusted or whether a different medication should be used.

Meperidine can be very harmful or fatal if it is used improperly. An overdose can severely depress a person's breathing, which may result in mental confusion, seizures, heart attacks, or coma. The potential for physical and psychological addiction is high, and people who abuse the drug are prone to serious dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Most patients who use the medication exactly how it is prescribed can avoid such complications and reap only positive effects of treatment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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