Demerol Pain Medication Information

Demerol (meperidine) is a narcotic, or opioid, a pain medication that has been around for quite some time. It was once used frequently in hospital settings to treat moderate to severe pain and is still sometimes used prior to or during a surgical procedure to enhance the effects of anesthesia.

However, the duration of Demerol's pain-relieving effects is shorter than that of other narcotics, and its production of toxic metabolites make it an inferior medication for pain control.

Demerol also has a long list of potentially dangerous interactions with other medications. For these reasons, Demerol is now less frequently used to treat pain.

Injection in arm
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How It Works

The pain-relieving properties of Demerol differ from other medications, such as morphine. Instead of keeping nerve endings from transmitting messages of pain to the brain, Demerol acts on the central nervous system, essentially tricking the brain by replacing the feeling of pain with a "high."

Patients who are given Demerol for pain are basically feeling the euphoric effects of the medication instead of their pain.

Why Demerol Has Fallen Out of Favor

Hospitals and outpatient clinics don't use Demerol as often as they used to because of safety issues: Demerol can be toxic when taken in high doses, and it has a long list of side effects, which include:

  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Low blood pressure
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Rapid heart rate or abnormal heartbeats
  • Nausea and vomiting

Demerol is also highly addictive for some people and has multiple adverse interactions with other medications.

Current Uses

Demerol is not recommended for either short-term use or to treat acute (sudden, often sharp) pain. The American Pain Society and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) do not recommend Demerol's use as a pain-relieving medication, particularly in older adults and in patients with kidney insufficiency.

If it must be used to treat acute pain, it should only be used for a maximum of 48 hours and shouldn't be given to patients with kidney or neurological diseases. Demerol shouldn't be used long term to treat chronic pain, and it's no longer used in palliative care (symptom relief) or hospice (end-of-life) settings, either.

Where and When Demerol Is Used Today

Demerol may be used in a hospital or outpatient setting for patients undergoing anesthesia. It is still routinely used with other medications in order to cause sedation (a state of calm or sleep) in patients undergoing procedures such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy, nonsurgical procedures to examine the lower part of the colon and the digestive tract.

If you or your loved one has had Demerol prescribed to you to treat pain, speak with your physician about other possible options. There are other medications that may be more effective at treating pain, with fewer side effects.

A Word From Verywell

Demerol (meperidine) is a narcotic pain reliever that has fallen out of favor in recent years. In the past, Demerol was used for a variety of painful conditions, including pain after surgery. In recent years, Demerol has been less prescribed due to safety concerns, and as a result, morphine, Dilaudid (hydromorphone), and fentanyl have become more commonly prescribed.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Latta KS, Ginsberg B, Barkin RL. Meperidine: A Critical ReviewAmerican Journal of Therapeutics. 2002;9(1):53-68. doi:10.1097/00045391-200201000-00010

  2. Nummenmaa L, Tuominen L. Opioid system and human emotionsBritish Journal of Pharmacology. 2017;175(14):2737-2749. doi:10.1111/bph.13812

  3. Friesen, K.J., Falk, J. & Bugden, S. The safety of meperidine prescribing in older adults: A longitudinal population-based studyBMC Geriatr 16, 100 (2016) doi:10.1186/s12877-016-0275-5

  4. Institute for Safe Medicine Practices. HIGH ALERT Medication Feature: Reducing Patient Harm from Opiates.

  5. Dobbins EH. Where has all the meperidine gone? Nursing. 2010;40(1):65-66. doi:10.1097/01.nurse.0000365924.16631.a4

  6. Buck ML. Is Meperidine the Drug That Just Won't Die?J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2011;16(3):167–169. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-16.3.167

Additional Reading
  • Meperidine: Drug Information.

  • Hanks, G, Cherry, NI, Fulton, M. Opioid Analgesic Therapy. In: Doyle, D, Hanks, G, Cherry, NI., et al. Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine. 3rd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press: 316-341

By Angela Morrow, RN
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.