Hydrocodone is also known by the trade names Vicodin®, Lortab®, Lorcet-HD®, Hycodan® and Vicoprofen®. Hydrocodone is a cough suppressant and a narcotic pain reliever for the treatment of moderate to moderately severe pain. It is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the US  with more than 139 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing products dispensed in 2010, and more than 36 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Hydrocodone is abused for its opioid effects.  Widespread diversion via bogus call-in prescriptions, altered prescriptions, theft and illicit purchases from Internet sources are made easier by the present controls placed on hydrocodone products.  Hydrocodone pills are the most frequently encountered dosage form in illicit traffic.  It is generally abused orally, often in combination with alcohol.

Every age group has been affected by the relative ease of hydrocodone availability and the perceived safety of these products by medical prescribers.  Sometimes viewed as a “white collar” addiction, hydrocodone abuse has increased among all ethnic and economic groups.

Hydrocodone has been encountered in tablets, capsules, and liquid form in the illicit market.  However, hydrocodone tablets with the co-ingredient, acetaminophen, is the most frequently encountered form.  It is not typically found to be clandestinely produced; diverted pharmaceuticals are the primary source of the drug for abuse purposes.

As with most opiates, abuse of hydrocodone is associated with tolerance, dependence, and addiction.  The co-formulation with acetaminophen carries an additional risk of liver toxicity when high, acute doses are consumed.

Sources:

Hydrocodone, DEA Office of Diversion Control, Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, June 2011.