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Doctors have prescribed the painkilling opiate oxycodone for decades, but reports of abuse skyrocketed with the release of OxyContin – a concentrated form of the drug that can be crushed and snorted. Rehab clinics and substance abuse counselors now see countless addicts of the medication, but thousands more are living with the addiction without getting the help they need.

  • Drug Name Oxycodone
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Street Names OxyContin, Oxy, OC, Kickers, Killers, Orange County
  • How It's Used Swallowed, Snorted, Injected
  • Side Effects Irregular Breathing, Headache, Dizziness, Low Blood Pressure, Impaired Focus, Seizure
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

Oxycodone Addiction

Painkillers give millions of people some much-needed relief. You may be prescribed a bottle of oxycodone — perhaps the best-known painkiller – after a wisdom tooth removal, a broken arm, or any number of other commonplace events. These potent pills help many of us work through the worst of an injury and focus on the rest of our lives.

Patients switching to Heroin

About 75% of opioid addiction disease patients switch to heroin as a deeper opioid source.

It’s easy to take the drug too far, though, and abuse its effects past the point of a doctor’s recommendation. Since the drug hit the market in the 1960s, certain patients have grown attached to the relief they feel from oxycodone, and become dependent on an endless supply of the medication. And once the doctor refuses to refill, these addicts hit the street in search of their next fix, willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a single pill.

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In the worst cases, an addiction to oxycodone can drive you to put yourself and others in harm’s way. Withdrawing from a serious oxycodone addiction can be as painful as withdrawing from heroin, and in order to avoid these feelings, addicts may enter a life of crime or violence.

I think pain pill addiction, especially oxycodone, is one of those things that you don’t realize it has such a strong hold on your life until it’s too late.

Brian James Lindsey, Recovering Addict

Lindsey’s prescription drug addiction drove him to jump the counter at a pharmacy and demand they hand over pills.

He was taken to jail, where he began recovery, but many people in his situation are not so lucky. Oxycodone abuse causes hundreds of deaths each year in the United States. Addiction to the drug can sneak up on anyone. The most at-risk individuals are white males; oxycodone deaths among white males are double that of Latinos, and three times that of blacks. Users with a history of alcohol or drug abuse are the most susceptible to developing a dependency.

I never wanted to hurt anybody. I’ve struggled with pain pill addiction off and on for four years.

Brian James Lindsey, Recovering Addict

Rise of OxyContin

It was an intense new high that rapidly found a long list of fans. The dangers of oxycodone multiplied a great deal with the arrival of OxyContin in 1996. Marketed as a time-release form of oxycodone, which spreads the effects over a 12-hour period, users were quick to discover the benefits of crushing the tablet and snorting it or injecting it. This delivers all 12 hours’ worth of oxycodone in one straight shot to the brain.

For several years, OxyContin use exploded and doctors prescribed the pills by the millions. Teens with prescriptions could quickly sell off their bottles to others looking to get high, and then go get a refill and do it all again. Reports of addiction and death flooded the news. With a high enough dosage, OxyContin can kill in a single sitting, especially if combined with alcohol or other drugs. The medication claimed the lives of hundreds of people a year during its peak, most of them teenagers.

Oxycodone prescriptions in the U.S.

In 2012, 259 Million opioid pain medication prescriptions were written, enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills.

In 2010, the makers of OxyContin released a new formula of the pill that could not be crushed into powder. Reports of overdoses from poison control centers fell by 42 percent over the next couple years. The makers also began putting an addiction warning label on OxyContin bottles.

Signs and Symptoms Might Not be Obvious

Because of the widespread use of painkillers, it’s difficult to draw the line as to where addiction starts. If you feel someone you know may be abusing oxycodone, look out for some of these telltale signs:

As with any addiction, approaching somebody dependent on oxycodone can be a fragile issue. They may convince you they don’t have a problem, and may be convinced themselves. Handle these situations with care. More information on how to handle these scenarios can be found on our intervention page.

Side Effects Risks Could be Psychological & Physical

Prolonged use of oxycodone, particularly when used illicitly, changes the brain in a way that makes quitting nearly impossible to do by yourself. Regular users are at high risk for addiction both physically and psychologically.

Attempting to quit after using the drug regularly can set off withdrawal symptoms. These can include nausea, anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain and fevers.

Physical side effects of oxycodone include:

Abusing oxycodone can lead to heart failure or slowed breathing, both common causes of overdose. Injecting the drug illicitly opens up a new set of risks related to needle use, including abscesses and the potential transfer of HIV or AIDS.

Finding Help for Oxycodone Addiction

Stopping an oxycodone habit often requires careful supervision. Depending on the severity of an addiction, the pain of withdrawal can from range from mild to extreme.

If you or someone you know shows the signs of oxycodone addiction, contact a local rehab or treatment center to help you determine the best course of action.


Rehab facilities provide addicts with a safe place to detox, under supervision from caring physicians. Medications may be offered to diminish symptoms of the withdrawal.

Following the detox period, therapy and counseling are often the next steps in defeating an addiction. Doctors will typically assess patients on their need for therapy, and present the appropriate options. Cognitive-behavioral therapy shows the highest rate of success in getting to the root of addictive behaviors, by reshaping the way patients think about the drug and the consequences of their actions. Group sessions with substance abuse counselors are also highly effective and commonly used methods of treatment.

Support Groups

A number of community support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery, allow anyone struggling with addiction or on the recovery path to attend meetings for little or no fee. Meetings provide a welcoming group of people like yourself, and a platform to discuss your addiction stories and your progress toward sobriety. Some members attend their support group for years, as a way to stay accountable for their actions and proactive in their fight to stay clean.

Use Caution

When your doctor recommends the painkiller route following an appointment, make sure you are aware of the risks involved and ask as many questions as possible. If you decide to begin a relationship with oxycodone or similar painkillers, follow the doctor’s orders closely and don’t exceed your prescribed dosage. Don’t offer pills to friends or family, and avoid taking your dose if you’ve been drinking. At any point, if you feel you are taking too much oxycodone, talk with your doctor and seek out alternative ways to relieve your pain.

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