OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin is the brand name for a long-acting form of the opioid painkiller oxycodone. The drug’s time-release formula provides up to 12 hours of pain relief, but it’s also highly addictive. Medication-assisted treatment is gold standard for treating an OxyContin addiction.
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Fast Facts: OxyContin

ABUSE POTENTIAL
High
SCIENTIFIC NAME
Oxycodone
DRUG CLAS
Opioid
STREET NAMES
Hillbilly Heroin, Kicker, OC, Ox, Oxy Perc Roxy
SIDE EFFECTS
Pinpoint pupils, Extreme Drowsiness, Confusion, Muscle Weakness, Cold and Clammy Skin, Weak Pulse, Shallow Breathing, Fainting, Coma
HOW IT’S USED
Swallowed, Snorted, Injected, Inhaled
LEGAL STATUS
Schedule II

When Purdue Pharma began marketing OxyContin in 1996, the company claimed the drug was less addictive than other prescription opioids and a safe way to treat chronic pain.

The pharmaceutical giant was wrong. As prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed, so did reports of OxyContin addiction and abuse. Soon the drug was available on the street, and drug users began snorting and injecting it.

In the year 2000, half of the 300 patients admitted to a West Virginia rehab were addicted to OxyContin. That same year, more than 200 Floridians died from OxyContin overdoses. By 2014, seven million Americans had abused OxyContin.

OxyContin Addiction Statistics & Causes

OxyContin is an extended-release version of oxycodone. The opioid painkiller is twice as potent as morphine and intended for moderate to severe pain lasting more than a few days. OxyContin contains high levels of oxycodone that are released continuously over a 12-hour period.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Purdue Pharma aggressively marketed the drug to doctors. The company flew health care providers to conferences at resorts in Florida, Arizona and California where they encouraged physicians to prescribe the drug.

By its fifth year on the market, the blockbuster drug was generating more than $1 billion in sales. In 2010, OxyContin sales topped $3 billion.

OxyContin became the focus of a marketing campaign that claimed all opioids were safe and effective. There was no evidence for that.
– Dr. Chris Johnson, Opioid Prescribing Work Group, Minnesota Department of Human Services

While Purdue hailed OxyContin as a safe and effective treatment for treatment for chronic pain, the drug had problems.

For one, it was not as abuse-resistant as the company claimed. Individuals could crush and snort or melt and inject the pills for a more immediate high.

Moreover, as a 2016 investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed, patients weren’t always getting the 12 hours of pain relief promised.

In some people, the drug’s effects lasted eight hours or less. Their pain would come roaring back before their next dose was due, and it was often accompanied by agonizing oxycodone withdrawal symptoms, such nausea, anxiety and drug cravings.

Amid these repeated withdrawal episodes, many patients spiraled into oxycodone addiction.

By 2010, a new abuse-deterrent version of OxyContin hit the shelves of pharmacies. The new tablets were harder to crush or melt, and the drug was more expensive. Many turned to heroin instead, sparking an unprecedented epidemic of drug overdose and death.

OxyContin Overdose

In addition to pain relief, OxyContin can cause euphoria and extreme relaxation. The drug can also cause a range of unwanted side effects.

Minor OxyContin or oxycodone side effects include constipation, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, itching, vomiting, headache, dry mouth, sweating and weakness.

But the powerful painkiller can also cause serious and sometimes fatal reactions. OxyContin is a potent central nervous system depressant. As it slows the body, the drug can cause profound sedation, respiratory depression and death.

Signs and symptoms of an OxyContin or oxycodone overdose include:

  • Shallow, slow or labored breathing
  • No breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish-colored fingernails and lips
  • Coma (unresponsiveness)
  • Seizures
  • Death

Taking OxyContin more frequently than directed can increase the risk of a deadly overdose. So can mixing it with other substances. Mixing oxycodone and alcohol is extremely dangerous and increases the chances of respiratory failure. Mixing oxycodone and Xanax can also cause respiratory arrest.

Signs of OxyContin Addiction: Dependence & Withdrawal

A person can develop a physical dependence on OxyContin in a very short amount of time. When that happens, they’ll need higher doses of the drug to get the intended effects or just feel normal.

If they suddenly stop taking the drug, or reduce their dose, they may become very sick. Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can even start in between normal 12-hour doses of OxyContin.

Early signs and symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Tearing eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Sweating

These are the same symptoms that occur with heroin withdrawal. As withdrawal syndrome progresses, a person will become sicker.

Late OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Goose bumps

A person in the throes of OxyContin withdrawal may feel like they are dying. In fact, opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening. But it can be so hard to tolerate that people give in to the dope sickness and quickly relapse.

People who can’t get access to OxyContin often turn to heroin for relief. As a result, OxyContin is sometimes considered a gateway drug to intravenous heroin use.

OxyContin Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an OxyContin addiction, rehab can help.

A medically supervised detox can help ease the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

There are also medications that can reduce cravings and allow your brain to recover from the disease of addiction. These prescription medications, which include buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, are known as opioid replacement therapy.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in fact, is considered the gold standard for treating opioid use disorders, including oxycodone addiction and Percocet addiction. Patients who are deemed appropriate candidates for MAT also receive intensive counseling and behavioral therapy.

Depending on your circumstances, rehab may be offered on an inpatient or outpatient basis. The length of rehab also varies depending on a person’s needs and situation.

Author
Amy Keller, RN, BSN
Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
As a former journalist and a registered nurse, Amy draws on her clinical experience, compassion and storytelling skills to provide insight into the disease of addiction and treatment options. Amy has completed the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s course on Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder and continuing education on Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). Amy is an advocate for patient- and family-centered care. She previously participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s patient and family advisory program and was a speaker at the Institute of Patient-and Family-Centered Care’s 2015 national conference.
@DrugRehabAmy
editor
Kim Borwick, MA
Editor, DrugRehab.com

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