Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently made it official that opioid overdoses claim more lives than traffic accidents in the United States. The national health agency has officially declared drug-related overdose deaths linked to narcotic opioids as an epidemic that is still difficult to get a handle on.
Oxycodone, known as “oxy” on the streets, is the powerful ingredient in the extended-release tablet OxyContin, one of the most widely abused drugs on the black market, and Percocet. While oxycodone itself has been abused since the early 1960s, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), OxyContin abuse has risen steadily since its introduction in the 1990s, the agency says.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. The most common opiates linked to prescription drug overdoses include methadone, oxycodone opioids (such as OxyContin), and hydrocodone opioids (such as Vicodin).
Here, we look at oxycodone and why the medication hooks so many users, leading many to develop an addiction that will not be easy to end on their own.
Oxycodone is an opioid medication used to treat moderate-to-severe pain in people who are injured or those who have had surgery. It is available in an immediate-release oral tablet or capsule and as an immediate-release oral solution. After it is ingested, it binds to the mu-receptors in the central nervous system and changes how the brain and spinal cord perceive pain. Oxycodone also can be found in the medications Percodan and Percocet. Both contain the drug and an over-the-counter pain reliever. Percodan is a mix of oxycodone and aspirin, and Percocet is a mix of oxycodone and acetaminophen.
Oxycodone’s brand name, OxyContin, is more widely recognized. OxyContin is the extended-release form of oxycodone, and oxycodone is the only ingredient in the medication. This means the drug contains concentrated forms of oxycodone that make it very strong. OxyContin is a time-release medication, however, and it remains effective during a 12-hour period.
According to HealthLine, OxyContin is usually prescribed for people who have longer-lasting pain from the late stages of a long-term disease, such as cancer. “Doctors may sometimes add immediate-release oxycodone to treatment with OxyContin during brief moments when the pain becomes severe,” it writes.
Oxycodone is habit-forming, and users can develop a physical and psychological dependence on it with regular use or abuse. The side effects of both medications are similar because they both contain the same ingredient. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, stomach pain, dry mouth, insomnia, headache, and mood and behavioral changes. There are also side effects that require a doctor’s attention or emergency medical help. Per MedLinePlus, those are:
When used as prescribed, oxycodone has been found to treat pain effectively. But the powerful, addictive drug is habit-forming with regular use, even if the doses are low and taken as prescribed. People who misuse the drugs can overdose, develop an addiction, or poison themselves.
There generally are two groups of people who take oxycodone: those who use it to manage pain—sometimes the point of misuse—and those who abuse it to get high. Many people who abuse oxycodone started using it on prescription. However, as their tolerance for the medication grew, so did their need to use the drug in higher amounts to get the same results, whether that was more pain relief or a familiar high. People seek feelings of euphoria, tension relief, and relaxation when they use oxycodone recreationally.
Abusing oxycodone means using it in any manner in which it was not intended. This includes crushing oxycodone pills to snort them, inject them, or smoke them. Some people abuse the medication with alcohol, which is a very dangerous mix. Both substances depress the central nervous system, which can slow or stop a person’s breathing and heart function when ingested, especially in large amounts. A person can sustain permanent brain and organ damage by using these drugs together. The combination also can be fatal.
People may also have difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks, and that may exhibit impaired memory and judgment.
Other general symptoms include:
Those who use oxycodone without a doctor’s prescription are more likely to abuse it. When the person stops consuming them, that’s when oxycodone withdrawals will come crashing down on them, turning their lives upside down. Signs of withdrawal emerge when one stops using drugs, which is a strong indicator that one is addicted. This is usually not a pleasant period.
These symptoms occur when use has stopped or been reduced. Going off oxycodone after heavy, frequent or a long-term use abruptly is not recommended. Instead, the uncomfortable period following discontinued use is better managed in an addiction treatment facility where knowledgeable addiction specialists and medical professionals can help addicted users get the fresh start they want and need.
People who are fighting to stop abusing oxycodone or have developed an addiction to it are advised to enter a reputable, licensed treatment center. An effective recovery program starts with medical detox. Detoxing at a medical facility can take place before oxycodone withdrawal symptoms begin. Oxycodone withdrawals can start anywhere from eight to 12 hours after the last dose. Keep in mind, however, that factors such as what kind of oxycodone you took (immediate release or timed release) and how you took it (swallowed, snorted, injected) can affect how fast or slowly it wears off.
Medical supervision during the withdrawal period will keep users safe as they cope with uncomfortable but rarely life-threatening symptoms. Getting medical help with drug detox also can reduce the possibility of having a relapse. This procedure, which runs 24 hours a day for three to seven days or longer if needed, rids the body of the drug(s) and other toxins.
Licensed medical professionals are there for clients throughout the process to regularly heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and other vitals. A tapering schedule may be used to gradually wean a person off oxycodone. This gives the body a chance to adjust to not having oxycodone in its system. Medications also may help ease withdrawal symptoms while monitoring clients’ overall health and vital signs. Some medications given to treat opioid dependence include buprenorphine, clonidine, and Suboxone.
Once detox is complete and stability has been achieved, the next step is to enter into a treatment program. Addiction treatment varies from person to person according to one’s needs. Treatment options are on a continuum from the highest level of care to the lowest level. The treatment setting a client is placed in depends on the severity of one’s addiction and other factors. Treatment settings include inpatient (residential) treatment programs, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient treatment programs among others.
All of these programs are designed to give substance users in recovery the much-needed opportunity to get clear about the causes of their addiction and learn the skills, tools, and strategies they will need to identify triggers that could lead back to abusing oxycodone, which, for so many ends up in relapse.
Clients also are evaluated to see how far along their addiction is and if they have any co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, which is when a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder happen at the same time. Dually diagnosed people benefit from rehabilitation programs that treat both disorders at the same time. Treatment can be scheduled to include different programs, therapies, and services that can help the person recover from addiction. Twelve-step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) are popular among people in recovery as well as various kinds of therapies that promote health and wellness, including holistic therapy, motivational therapy, and trauma therapy.
People recovering from oxycodone addiction likely will need continued support when treatment ends. Aftercare services can help them avoid relapse and stay focused on their recovery. Post-treatment assistance can help people find a job and transitional housing that provides the right environment for someone recovering from addiction. Ongoing medical services also can help people manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS. Irritability, depression, and cognitive impairments, such as memory loss, are some common PAWS symptoms. Some people join a treatment center’s alumni program so they can stay connected to people in the recovery community.
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Recreational oxycodone use can lead to overdose, which, in many cases, turns fatal.
Breathing trouble should be addressed immediately with emergency medical attention. If these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately or get the person to the nearest hospital or medical care facility.
Naloxone, a prescription medication better known as Narcan, may be able to reverse the effects of an oxycodone overdose if treated in time. Narcan blocks the opioid’s effects on the brain. A dose (or multiple doses) can help overdosed individuals breathe more normally and make it easier to wake them up. The medication can be given as an injection into the muscle of an arm, a thigh, or the buttocks. Or, it can be used as a nasal spray that can be given in the nostrils. It may take more than one dose to help bring back a person. Equipped emergency medical personnel can administer this medication as well as any trained family member or friend who has it on hand.
Naloxone is not guaranteed to work for several reasons, so it should not be seen as foolproof. There are times when Narcan may not be effective because the substance ingested contained more than one kind of opioid, such as fentanyl, which is more potent and deadly than oxycodone. If the emergency doses don’t reach the affected person in time, a fatal overdose can happen or one can incur permanent injury because oxygen wasn’t received in enough time.
People who have breathing problems or are prone to asthma attacks should not use oxycodone. Pregnant women who use OxyContin should be aware that their unborn babies could become dependent on the drug, which can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms after birth.
Also, women are strongly discouraged from breastfeeding if they are taking OxyContin. The drug could pass through the milk and cause the nursing baby to feel drowsy or experience breathing problems.
End Oxycodone Addiction Today
If you or someone you know is misusing or abusing oxycodone pills, call Pathway to Hope now at (844) 311-5781 or reach us online to talk to someone about getting help. There’s no need to delay; oxycodone addiction only gets worse the longer you wait. We provide our clients with the right environment they need to work toward regaining sobriety. When you call, you’ll talk with one of our addiction specialists who can share information about the treatment options we offer and more.
“Deaths from Higher Opioid Overdoses Now Higher Than Car Fatalities.” Retrieved August 17, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
Opioid Overdose. (2017, August 01). Retrieved August 17, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. Retrieved August 17, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html