By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.
Pethidine or meperidine (commonly referred to as Demerol but also referred to as: isonipecaine; lidol; pethanol; piridosal; Algil; Alodan; Centralgin; Dispadol; Dolantin; Mialgin (in Indonesia); Petidin Dolargan (in Poland); Dolestine; Dolosal; Dolsin; Mefedina) is a fast-acting opioid analgesic drug. In the United States and Canada, it is more commonly known as meperidine or by its brand name Demerol. Pethidine was the first synthetic opioid synthesized in 1932 as a potential anti-spasmodic agent by the chemist Otto Eislib. Its analgesic properties were first recognized by Otto Schaumann working for IG Farben, Germany. Pethidine is indicated for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, and is delivered as a hydrochloride salt in tablets, as a syrup, or by intramuscular or intravenous injection. For much of the 20th century, pethidine was the opioid of choice for many physicians; in 1983 60% of doctors prescribed it for acute pain and 22% for chronic severe pain.
Compared to morphine, pethidine was supposed to be safer and carry less risk of addiction, and to be superior in treating the pain associated with biliary spasm or renal colic due to its putative antispasmodic effects. In fact, pethidine is no more effective than morphine at treating biliary or renal pain, and its low potency, short duration of action, and unique toxicity (i.e., seizures, delirium, other neuropsychological effects) relative to other available opioid analgesics have seen it fall out of favor in recent years for all but a very few, very specific indications. Several countries, including Australia, have put strict limits on its use. Nevertheless, some physicians continue to use it as a first line strong opioid. The adverse effects of pethidine administration are primarily those of the opioids as a class: nausea, vomiting, sedation, dizziness, diaphoresis, urinary retention and constipation. Unlike other opioids, it does not cause miosis. Overdosage can cause muscle flaccidity, respiratory depression, obtundedness, cold and clammy skin, hypotension and coma. A narcotic antagonist such as naloxone is indicated to reverse respiratory depression. Serotonin syndrome has occurred in patients receiving concurrent antidepressant therapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Convulsive seizures sometimes observed in patients receiving parenteral pethidine on a chronic basis have been attributed to accumumulation in plasma of the metabolite norpethidine (normeperidine). Fatalities have occurred following either oral or intravenous pethidine overdosage.
Pethidine has serious interactions that can be dangerous with MAOIs (e.g., furazolidone, isocarboxazid, moclobemide, phenelzine, procarbazine, selegiline, tranylcypromine). Such patients may suffer agitation, delirium, headache, convulsions, and/or hyperthermia. Fatal interactions have been reported including the death of Libby Zion. It is thought to be caused by an increase in cerebral serotonin concentrations. It is possible that pethidine can also interact with a number of other medications, including muscle relaxants, some antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and alcohol.Pethidine is also relatively contraindicated for use when a patient is suffering from liver, or kidney disease, has a history of seizures or epilepsy, has an enlarged prostate or urinary retention problems, or suffers from hypothyroidism, asthma, or Addison's disease.
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