There are many different forms of drug abuse, some of which involve modifying a drug for a specific reason. Cold water extraction (CWE) is one such method.
CWE is sometimes used to remove ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol, sold under the brand name Tylenol) from combination painkiller products containing opioid/opiate drugs like codeine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone.
Cold Water Opioid Extraction
CWE uses fractional crystallization, a process that separates mixed substances depending on how soluble (dissolvable) they are in water.
In order to work well, fractal crystallization requires the compounds being separated to have a large difference in their water solubility.
In the case of acetaminophen and hydrocodone (the active ingredients in the brand-name painkiller Vicodin), this difference is considerable, with the opioid dissolving many times faster and more easily than acetaminophen.
How Vicodin CWE Works
During the process, Vicodin painkiller tablets are crushed and ground down into a fine powder, then mixed with warm water. This mixture is then allowed to settle and is cooled.
Because acetaminophen dissolves so much worse than hydrocodone, it will likely clump up/crystallize and fall out of the water solution as the temperature drops, forming a solid layer on the bottom of the container.
The mixture can then be strained using a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove these solids, with the opioid still dissolved into the water.
Is CWE Effective?
This simple, DIY process is imprecise but easy to perform at home.
And in qualitative studies it has been shown to remove up to 90% of the unwanted acetaminophen and other fillers, while keeping between 40% and 70% of the hydrocodone.
Why CWE Is Performed
Acetaminophen is one of the most widely used over-the-counter medications for routine pain relief and inflammation reduction. But just because it’s used so much doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
In fact, acetaminophen has a high liver toxicity that can stress the liver if the drug is used in large doses over a long period of time. This can lead to liver scarring, injury, liver function reduction, or even liver failure.
Tampering with painkiller tablets like Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone bitartrate) or Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone) using CWE can remove unwanted acetaminophen and reduce a person’s risk of long-term liver injury, though misusing prescription opioids is still dangerous and potentially harmful.
CWE has also been used to collect and concentrate less-potent opioids included in certain over-the-counter medications for a more euphoric dose. Medications containing codeine phosphate, which are available without a prescription in nations like the United Kingdom, are a prime example.
Risks Associated With Hydrocodne CWE
Combination analgesics may not be a good choice for you if you’re experiencing moderate to severe pain and have a history of liver problems. But removing acetaminophen from these tablets through CWE is not a legal or safe way to control your pain.
Dosing & Overdose
Even though the CWE process and filtration reduces the amount of opioid present in the final mixture relative to the total amount in the tablet, concentrating drugs in liquid makes it far more difficult to measure and control your dosage.
This can be a serious problem, as most painkiller formulations are designed to release drugs slowly over an extended period of time for longer-lasting relief. Drinking liquid generated by CWE, on the other hand, gives you the entire dose all at once.
At best this means your pain relief will be more sudden and shorter-lived than it would have been had you taken the tablet. At worst, you risk overdose and other harmful effects as the drug is rapidly absorbed from the liquid into your body.
Dependence & Addiction
While removing acetaminophen from prescription painkiller tablets may reduce your liver toxicity, it does nothing to address the unique risks of and side effects that come with prescription opioid abuse.
These risks include overdose, as mentioned, as well as the likelihood of developing physical dependence to the drug over time. It also increases the risk of becoming addicted and allowing the pleasure of drug use to change your thoughts and behaviors, despite the consequences.
Treating Prescription Painkiller Addiction
There are serious dangers that come with abusing prescription painkillers like Vicodin improperly. But prescription opioid dependence and addiction can be treated effectively in a professional treatment center setting
To learn more, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today and ask how our professional treatment programs can best serve you or your loved one.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.