Two years ago, you could get tramadol without a prescription in most parts of the country. Opiate addiction treatment programs in Texas were among the first that saw people struggling with addiction to tramadol, which is the generic medication contained in Ultram. Tramadol, including Ultram and Ultracet, which also contains acetaminophen, required a prescription only in Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming. That’s a total of 13 states; everywhere else, you could just walk into a pharmacy and get it.
Texas was one of the 13 states that put any kind of controls over it, even though the Drug Enforcement Administration said it was harmless. Opiate addiction treatment programs were aware that people were abusing tramadol, but it really hadn’t splashed across the public’s radar yet.
What’s the Big Deal With Tramadol?
Doctors just didn’t push the panic button when it came to prescribing tramadol. Those very few places that we mentioned like the addiction treatment programs in Texas were aware of its potential for abuse, but most physicians saw it as a safe alternative to narcotic medication. It was far better to prescribe Ultram or tramadol rather than hydrocodone or oxycodone medications, they said. But be aware—be very aware: Tramadol is an opiate medication in every sense of the word.
Strangely enough, it did not attract attention primarily because of its kinship to opioids. Addiction treatment programs in Texas first began hearing more about it because it was contributing to serotonin syndrome in people who took it. Serotonin syndrome occurs when a person’s system is overloaded with serotonin medications, and symptoms include confusion, headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, agitation, and insomnia. That’s because in addition to its analgesic qualities, tramadol also exerts an effect on the brain’s processing of serotonin, which is usually left to SSRI medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro, to name a few.
That occurred because physicians were not only giving their patients tramadol for pain, they were offering them anti-anxiety medications as well—the SSRIs—and overloading them in the process. This demonstrates perfectly why people who have questions about their medication should not only ask their doctors but also touch base with their pharmacists.
What Addiction Treatment Programs in Texas Know
Staff and doctors at addiction treatment programs in Texas have become aware that the number of tramadol prescriptions has doubled over a recent five-year period. In 2008, nationwide figures showed 23.3 million tramadol prescriptions written. By 2013, that number rose to 43.8 million. Those figures aren’t as staggering as those for hydrocodone—which accounts for 124 million—but it’s closing the gap compared with oxycodone, at 53 million.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of emergency department visits resulting from tramadol misuse reached 27,421. In 2008, those visits were estimated at just over 10,000.
The most frightening aspect is not just that the increase has doubled or emergency department visits have almost tripled. What’s most worrisome, according to some of the staff at addiction treatment programs in Texas, is that tramadol prescriptions are often written alongside prescriptions for SSRIs. Of those 27,421 emergency department visits, 10,833 involved adverse reactions with other medications, including other narcotic pain pills, antidepressants, SSRI medications, and anticonvulsants including barbiturates. It’s simply deadly to take tramadol in tandem with any of them.
Summarizing Precautions About Tramadol
- So now you know that tramadol is a synthetic opiate, but still an opiate. It should never be taken with another opiate.
- You must also never take it with benzodiazepines, SSRIs, or alcohol. Actually, if you feel that you need an SSRI medication for anxiety or stress, there are many you can take with methadone or buprenorphine; ask the doctor at one of the Texas addiction treatment programs.
- One-fifth of all tramadol prescriptions are written for senior citizens—again, because doctors underestimate its dangers. If you are reading this because you are concerned for an elderly family member, your concerns may be very well justified.
- Tramadol also affects the reuptake of serotonin in the brain. It should never be taken with SSRIs, as we noted above, or with SNRIs, which include Effexor or Cymbalta, among others.
- Tramadol can cause the same side effects as other opiates, including itching, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness. You will also feel withdrawal symptoms if you have been taking it and you stop. That’s where the people at addiction treatment programs in Texas can help you.
- While most opioids put you through an annoying but harmless withdrawal—you won’t die, but you’ll feel like you might—tramadol has been known to cause seizures during withdrawal. Again, that’s why you need proper medical supervision at a Texas medication-assisted treatment program.
Don’t hesitate to contact your local methadone treatment program in Texas if you have questions about tramadol or any medication. Whether or not you need treatment, you can start by talking to someone and getting your worries out in the open. Making that first phone call will pave the way.