DEMEROL (Page 6 of 10)

9.3 Dependence

Both tolerance and physical dependence can develop during chronic opioid therapy. Tolerance is the need for increasing doses of opioids to maintain a defined effect such as analgesia (in the absence of disease progression or other external factors). Tolerance may occur to both the desired and undesired effects of drugs, and may develop at different rates for different effects.

Physical dependence results in withdrawal symptoms after abrupt discontinuation or a significant dosage reduction of a drug. Withdrawal also may be precipitated through the administration of drugs with opioid antagonist activity (e.g., naloxone, nalmefene), mixed agonist/antagonist analgesics (e.g., pentazocine, butorphanol, nalbuphine), or partial agonists (e.g., buprenorphine). Physical dependence may not occur to a clinically significant degree until after several days to weeks of continued opioid usage.

DEMEROL Injection should not be abruptly discontinued [see Dosage and Administration (2.4)]. If DEMEROL Injection is abruptly discontinued in a physically-dependent patient, a withdrawal syndrome may occur. Some or all of the following can characterize this syndrome: restlessness, lacrimation, rhinorrhea, yawning, perspiration, chills, myalgia, and mydriasis. Other signs and symptoms also may develop, including: irritability, anxiety, backache, joint pain, weakness, abdominal cramps, insomnia, nausea, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, or increased blood pressure, respiratory rate, or heart rate.

Infants born to mothers physically dependent on opioids will also be physically dependent and may exhibit respiratory difficulties and withdrawal signs [see Use in Specific Populations (8.1)].


Clinical Presentation

Acute overdose with DEMEROL Injection can be manifested by respiratory depression, somnolence progressing to stupor or coma, skeletal muscle flaccidity, cold and clammy skin, constricted pupils, and, in some cases, pulmonary edema, bradycardia, hypotension, partial or complete airway obstruction, atypical snoring, and death. Marked mydriasis rather than miosis may be seen with hypoxia in overdose situations [see Clinical Pharmacology (12.2)]. In severe overdose, particularly by the intravenous route, apnea, circulatory collapse, cardiac arrest, and death may occur.

Accumulation of normeperidine as in chronic use or possibly following introduction of a concomitant CYP3A4 inducer presents as excitatory syndrome including hallucinations, tremors, muscle twitches, dilated pupils, hyperactive reflexes, and convulsions.

Treatment of Overdose

In case of overdose, priorities are the reestablishment of a patent and protected airway and institution of assisted or controlled ventilation, if needed. Employ other supportive measures (including oxygen and vasopressors) in the management of circulatory shock and pulmonary edema as indicated. Cardiac arrest or arrhythmias will require advanced life-support techniques.

The opioid antagonists, naloxone or nalmefene, are specific antidotes to respiratory depression resulting from opioid overdose. For clinically significant respiratory or circulatory depression secondary to meperidine overdose, administer an opioid antagonist. Opioid antagonists should not be administered in the absence of clinically significant respiratory or circulatory depression secondary to meperidine overdose.

Because the duration of opioid reversal is expected to be less than the duration of action of meperidine in DEMEROL Injection, carefully monitor the patient until spontaneous respiration is reliably re-established. If the response to an opioid antagonist is suboptimal or only brief in nature, administer additional antagonist as directed by the product’s prescribing information.

In an individual physically dependent on opioids, administration of the recommended usual dosage of the antagonist will precipitate an acute withdrawal syndrome. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms experienced will depend on the degree of physical dependence and the dose of the antagonist administered. If a decision is made to treat serious respiratory depression in the physically dependent patient, administration of the antagonist should be begun with care and by titration with smaller than usual doses of the antagonist.


DEMEROL (meperidine hydrochloride injection) is an opioid agonist available as a sterile aqueous solution, for intramuscular, intravenous, or subcutaneous administration. It contains meperidine hydrochloride as the active pharmaceutical ingredient. Meperidine hydrochloride chemical name is 4‑Piperidinecarboxylic acid, 1‑methyl-4-phenyl-,ethyl ester, hydrochloride. The molecular weight is 283.79 g/mol. Its molecular formula is C15 H21 NO2 ·HCl, and it has the following chemical structure.

Chemical Structure
(click image for full-size original)

Meperidine hydrochloride is a white crystalline substance with a melting point of 186° C to 189° C, and it is readily soluble in water.

DEMEROL (meperidine hydrochloride injection) is available as:

Single-dose Carpuject cartridge with Luer Lock for the Carpuject Syringe System: 25 mg/mL, 50 mg/mL, 75 mg/mL, and 100 mg/mL. Each mL of Single-dose cartridge contains 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg or 100 mg of meperidine hydrochloride USP (equivalent to 21.79 mg, 43.58 mg, 65.36 mg or 87.15 mg of meperidine), respectively, and sodium hydroxide NF, and hydrochloric acid NF as pH adjusters, in water for injection. Only the 25 mg strength contains 3.8 mg of sodium chloride USP as isotonicity agent.

Multiple-dose vials: 1,500 mg/30 mL (50 mg/mL) strength. Each mL of vial contains 50 mg of meperidine hydrochloride USP (equivalent to 43.58 mg of meperidine), 1 mg of meta-cresol USP, as a preservative, and sodium hydroxide NF, and hydrochloric acid NF as pH adjusters, in water for injection.

Single-dose NexJect™ Prefilled Syringe with Luer Lock: 25 mg/mL, 50 mg/mL, 75 mg/mL, and 100 mg/mL strengths. Each mL contains 25 mg, 50 mg or 75 mg or 100 mg of meperidine hydrochloride USP (equivalent to 21.79 mg, 43.58 mg, 65.36 mg or 87.15 mg of meperidine), respectively, and sodium hydroxide NF, and hydrochloric acid NF as pH adjusters, in water for injection. Only the 25 mg strength contains 3.8 mg of sodium chloride USP as isotonicity agent.

The pH of DEMEROL (meperidine hydrochloride injection) solutions is between 3.5 and 6.0.

DEMEROL (meperidine hydrochloride injection) 5 percent solution has a specific gravity of 1.0086 at 20°C, and the 10 percent solution has a specific gravity of 1.0165 at 20°C.


12.1 Mechanism of Action

Meperidine hydrochloride is an opioid agonist with multiple actions qualitatively similar to those of morphine; the most prominent of these involve the central nervous system and organs composed of smooth muscle. The principal actions of therapeutic value are analgesia and sedation.

12.2 Pharmacodynamics

Effects on the Central Nervous System

Meperidine produces respiratory depression by direct action on brain stem respiratory centers. The respiratory depression involves a reduction in the responsiveness of the brain stem respiratory centers to both increases in carbon dioxide tension and electrical stimulation.

Meperidine causes miosis, even in total darkness. Pinpoint pupils are a sign of opioid overdose but are not pathognomonic (e.g., pontine lesions of hemorrhagic or ischemic origins may produce similar findings). Marked mydriasis rather than miosis may be seen due to hypoxia in overdose situations.

Effects on the Gastrointestinal Tract and Other Smooth Muscle

Meperidine causes a reduction in motility associated with an increase in smooth muscle tone in the antrum of the stomach duodenum. Digestion of food in the small intestine is delayed and propulsive contractions are decreased. Propulsive peristaltic waves in the colon are decreased, while tone may be increased to the point of spasm, resulting in constipation. Other opioid-induced effects may include a reduction in biliary and pancreatic secretions, spasm of sphincter of Oddi, and transient elevations in serum amylase.

Effects of the Cardiovascular System

Meperidine produces peripheral vasodilation which may result in orthostatic hypotension or syncope. Manifestations of histamine release and/or peripheral vasodilation may include pruritus, flushing, red eyes, and sweating and/or orthostatic hypotension.

Effects on the Endocrine System

Opioids inhibit the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, and luteinizing hormones (LH) in humans [see Adverse Reactions (6)]. They also stimulate prolactin, growth hormone (GH) secretion, and pancreatic secretion of insulin and glucagon.

Chronic use of opioids may influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, leading to androgen deficiency that may manifest as low libido, impotence, erectile dysfunction, amenorrhea, or infertility. The causal role of opioids in the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism is unknown because the various medical, physical, lifestyle, and psychological stressors that may influence gonadal hormone levels have not been adequately controlled for in studies conducted to date [see Adverse Reactions (6)].

Effects on the Immune System

Opioids have been shown to have a variety of effects on components of the immune system in in vitro and animal models. The clinical significance of these findings is unknown. Overall, the effects of opioids appear to be modestly immunosuppressive.

Concentration–Efficacy Relationships

The minimum effective analgesic concentration will vary widely among patients, especially among patients who have been previously treated with potent agonist opioids. The minimum effective analgesic concentration of meperidine for any individual patient may increase over time due to an increase in pain, the development of a new pain syndrome and/or the development of analgesic tolerance [see Dosage and Administration (2.1, 2.3)].

Meperidine, in 60 mg to 80 mg parenteral doses, is approximately equivalent in analgesic effect to 10 mg of morphine. The onset of action is slightly more rapid than with morphine, and the duration of action is slightly shorter. Meperidine is significantly less effective by the oral than by the parenteral route, but the exact ratio of oral to parenteral effectiveness is unknown.

Concentration–Adverse Reaction Relationships

There is a relationship between increasing meperidine plasma concentration and increasing frequency of dose-related opioid adverse reactions such as nausea, vomiting, CNS effects, and respiratory depression. In opioid-tolerant patients, the situation may be altered by the development of tolerance to opioid-related adverse reactions [see Dosage and Administration (2.1, 2.3)].

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