It’s often prescribed to individuals who have just undergone oral surgery or other outpatient procedures, or for those who have chronic pain or back pain. For a time, it was so commonly prescribed that it began to be trafficked in black markets and abused around the globe. People were using it without a prescription for its pleasant, relaxing effects and becoming addicted to its opioid properties.
In addition to growing abuse, overdose deaths associated with Vicodin began to spike. The hydrocodone in the medication – the opioid aspect – slows heart and breathing rates. Especially when combined with alcohol, breathing can slow to the point that not enough oxygen is getting to the brain, leading to coma, brain damage, and death. At the same time, Vicodin contains a high dose of acetaminophen, better known by the brand name Tylenol. This substance, if too much is taken at once, can cause liver damage and acute liver failure.
Due to these factors, Vicodin was reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States in 2014 after the Drug Enforcement Administration found that there were 16,000 opioid-related deaths in the country in 2010.
The opioid effects of Vicodin last for around 4 hours. However, traces of the drug will stay in the body for a number of days, and can be detected in the hair for months. The exact amount of time it takes for Vicodin to be flushed out of the system depends on a number of factors, including:
- Body fat content
- Body mass
- Liver health
- Amount of the last dose taken
- Presence of other drugs in the system
- How long use has been going on
Long-term, heavy abuse of Vicodin will cause the opioid to be stored in fatty tissue, keeping traces of the drug in the body for a longer period of time.
The more body fat a person has, the more hydrocodone will be absorbed, especially if the liver is already damaged and cannot metabolize it as effectively.
Vicodin and Drug Tests
A standard dose of hydrocodone has a half-life of about 3.8 hours. This means that it will take 3.8 hours for half of this dose to be flushed out of the average body. It therefore takes about 6-12 hours for withdrawal symptoms to appear if physical addiction has developed, and saliva tests can only detect the last traces of Vicodin for 12-36 hours after the last dose. Urine tests are more effective and can detect the drug for 2-4 days. Blood tests do not work for this substance. These time limits are generally extended for chronic, heavy users. Additionally, all opioids can be found in the hair follicles for up to 90 days after the last dose, but the use of hair tests is uncommon.
Due to the dangers and detrimental effects of Vicodin, addiction to this drug is a very serious matter. Even without overdose, the high amount of acetaminophen mixed with the opioid is hard on the liver, and over time, inflammation, scarring, and damage of the liver can occur, resulting in a life-threatening medical condition. The slowing of the digestive and respiratory systems can also cause chronic constipation and intestinal damage as well as leave the individual vulnerable to respiratory infections and lung problems.