Some opioids have come with such severe side-effects the Food and Drug Administration has found a need to ban them altogether. Unfortunately, a ban may not prevent people from becoming addicted to the drug, as it may remain in circulation for some time. Propoxyphene is one of those drugs.

What is Darvocet and Darvon?

Darvocet and Darvon are analgesic painkillers that were banned by the FDA in 2010, after they were linked to heart abnormalities and deaths in patients taking regular prescription dosages. Both contain a form of propoxyphene, which seems to be the culprit behind the fatal side effects.

Darvocet is a mixture of propoxyphene napsylate mixed with acetaminophen, while Darvon is comprised of one drug called propoxyphene hydrochlorate. Propoxyphene napsylate is a more stable form of the drug, which allows it to be mixed with acetaminophen, a non-narcotic pain reliever. Darvocet-N is a variation of the drug name (the n stands for napsylate) and used to denote strength, or the amount of propoxyphene napsylate used in the drug. The two strengths available were 50 mg or 100 mg of propoxyphene napsylate per pill.

Propoxyphene is an opioid that is weaker than other drugs in its class like hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and even codeine. When first introduced, it was believed it would be safer because it was a weaker version of other opioids. At the same time, it was still a narcotic that slowed activity in the central nervous system to numb pain signals.

Opioids work by binding with “opioid receptors,” in the brain, which then allows the brain to be flooded with the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is the brain's chemical messenger known to create feelings of euphoria and wellbeing. The opioid effect slows brain activity and results in a calming sensation, and what some refer to as a euphoric or anti-depressing effect.

As a person uses Darvon or Darvocet, it builds up around the spinal cord, thus altering the body's chemistry and physiology. The downside is that the pain-relieving effect is not very potent, so a person is likely to take more than prescribed. The body quickly becomes accustomed to the use of propoxyphene to unnaturally create a dopamine rush, thus setting the scene for Darvocet or Darvon abuse and addiction.

Propoxyphene caused irregular heart beat by interfering with electrical activity of the heart, which led to cardiac arrest in otherwise healthy people. Because of this, it was banned in the U.K. In 2004, then the European Union in 2009, and finally in the United States in 2010.

Darvocet and Darvon Abuse Statistics

Over 10,000 reported overdose deaths were linked to propoxyphene use. Before this was realized, propoxyphene was one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States, used for the treatment of mild to moderate pain as well as a cough suppressant. It is estimated that around 10 million people were using Darvocet at the time of its ban in 2010.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 600 million prescriptions may have been sold since 1980 while some American doctors estimate the amount to be 30 million per year on average since its legalization in 1957, greatly increasing the FDA estimate. At the same time the DEA, or Drug Enforcement Agency, listed Darvon on its top 10 most abused drug list.

Signs of Darvocet Abuse

Darvocet is an opioid drug, and so shares the same physical signs of abuse as most other drugs in its class. Drowsiness, fatigue, confusion, and dizziness may be noticed in someone using a drug with propoxyphene. As the person continues to abuse the drug, they may exhibit euphoria along with delusions of grandeur. Longer term use may cause pain in the chest and a reduced heart rate with shortness of breath, due the respiratory depression brought on by the drug. Digestive issues may also become a factor.

Some behavioral signs may also help you detect Darvocet or Darvon abuse. These are also similar to the signs of abuse of other opioids, as they are a central nervous system depressant. Signs that one may be abusing this drug could appear as slurred speech, lack of coordination, or they may appear intoxicated.

If addiction is an issue, the user may experience mood swings and irritability. Users often lose interest in their work, school and even social or recreational activities once enjoyed. They may isolate themselves from family and friends, or hang out with a different group of friends who share the habit.

Darvocet abuse holds a risk for overdose, which can come about quickly. Signs of overdose may include: bluish skin, shallow or difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, extreme fatigue, convulsions, or coma, all of which can lead to death. Emergency medical treatment is required and may involve breathing aids or drug intervention to counter the effects.

Darvocet Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms from Darvocet begin with an extreme craving for the drug. Other physical symptoms will become more apparent as withdrawal sets in, approximately 10 to 14 hours after the last dose. These may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Agitation

Symptoms may peak around three to five days after the last dose. This is the most intense withdrawal phase and can produce more severe nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and chills. The person may also appear to have a cold or flu with other symptoms such as runny nose, teary eyes, fever and sweating with chills.

The severity of the withdrawal symptoms and how long they last will depend upon the user's metabolism, age, and state of health or how their health has deteriorated due to Darvocet or Darvon abuse. Other factors to determine severity of withdrawal will be the amount of drug used, length of time it was used and the way it was used (taken as a pill or snorted in the nose).

Treatment for Darvocet Addiction

Treatment for Darvocet addiction, or any propoxyphene drug, should be implemented with medical or professional oversight and supervision. Opiate drugs cause extreme cravings and going it alone often leads to failure. Dangers in quitting the drug cold turkey (suddenly and completely stopping the drug) are twofold.

Detox

Medical intervention may be an option for treatment in Darvocet addiction. The first stage of treatment involves physical detoxification of the drug from the body. Doctors often recommend administering the drug of addiction in controlled amounts to allow the patient to taper down their dosage until the body is no longer dependent on it.

Since propoxyphene is no longer available, a physician may use a replacement drug like Suboxone, which will be safer than propoxyphene. This can help alleviate withdrawal side effects and create less risk of relapse. Depending upon the severity of the addiction, other medications may be administered to ease side effects such as nausea, vomiting, restlessness, and depression.

Once physical detox is complete, the patient must continue recovery to avoid relapse to this or any other opioid drug. Therapies may include individual, group, family or specialized counseling and therapeutic programs. Methods vary between facilities and which one is chosen will depend on insurance, financial means and location availability.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient facilities are the most successful for those with long term addictions, co-addictions (addicted to more than one drug), underlying psychological issues or recurring addictions. Patients reside at an inpatient facility anywhere from a few days up to four weeks, depending upon the program and severity of the addiction. Here, they will safely go through physical detoxification and have access to individual counseling, group therapies and possibly specialized therapies or classes.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient facilities work in a similar manner, but instead of living on site, the patient visits the facility daily or weekly, depending upon the treatment. These types of facilities may be necessary for those who need to work or have other commitments as they go through recovery. Daily appointments may be necessary for a doctor to administer medical intervention drugs during the detoxification phase and then the patient may return for weekly appointments to meet with therapists or counselors to complete their rehabilitation from Darvocet addiction.

Specialized Therapies

Individual counseling raises the chance for complete and lasting recovery for addiction treatment. Because no single treatment works for everyone, one-on-one sessions can provide insight to what an individual's needs are to support them in recovery. Group therapy is based on individuals desire to congregate and share. While it may feel intimidating at first, many people feel this is an enjoyable part of recovery where they find support, perspective on problems, and even get advice from others with similar experiences.

There are some specialized therapies that are proven to be successful in addiction treatment. Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Contingency Management are all valid methods that are helpful for long term recovery along with rehabilitation.

Motivational Interviewing, or MI, was developed specifically for addiction treatment. It is an individualized method that focuses on the patient. A therapist will help the patient uncover internal motivations that are behind the desire to recover from addiction, at which point they work together to build on their desire for healthy change.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a method where the patient works with a therapist to uncover the source of cognitive distortion, or flawed thinking patterns and feelings that have led to addiction, or that prevent recovery. It is one of the most successful, research driven therapies used in the treatment of addiction.

Contingency Management is a therapy based on rewarding sober behavior. It has been proven effective for addiction to a variety of substances from opioids to nicotine. It is thought to be successful because it allows the patient to make their own decision of wanting to live drug free.

Darvocet and Darvon addiction are still a risk today, but treatment is available. If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to a treatment specialist right away. No one has to suffer alone in silence, a treatment specialist will help you find the right treatment program so that you can begin your journey toward recovery.