Oxycodone is an opioid drug, sold under brand names including Oxycontin, and typically used as a pain reliever for moderate to severe pain such as recovery from surgery. While medically prescribed to more than 14 million Americans, Oxycodone is also one of the most abused opioid drugs. Oxycodone gives users a euphoric rush at 1.5x the strength of morphine and is commonly used recreationally as a result.
While there are many initiatives designed to reduce the addictiveness of Oxycodone and to help users manage prescriptions, including oxycodone mixed with Naloxone and Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), thousands of individuals are still addicted to opiates. In fact, more than 1.7 million Americans are addicted to opiates including Oxycodone, resulting in over 130 deaths per day. If you or a loved one is struggling with oxycodone or another opioid, it’s important to learn about the drug, about addiction, and how to get help.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a synthetic opiate drug, first created in 1916 at the University of Frankfurt. Oxycodone is synthesized from Thebaine, an alkaloid (and opioid drug) found in the opium poppy. The drug was first billed as a safer and less-addictive alternative to Heroin, which had recently been banned in the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act. The first version available for sale hit market in 1939 as SEE (the German initials for the ingredients), which mixed scopolamine, oxycodone, and ephedrine in an effort to offer the painkilling effects of morphine without the addictive or negative effects. By the 1960s, manufacturers still maintained claims that Oxycodone was not habit-forming, a claim which was not rejected by the United States until the 1970s, when it was classified as a Schedule II drug.
In 1996, the first slow-release form of the drug launched. OxyContin offered a short onset period and a duration of up to 12 hours, making it instantly popular for treating pain and as a party drug.
Oxycodone is used as a painkiller to dull physical pain. When users are not in pain or when they take more than the recommended dose, they instead feel a rush of euphoria. Oxycodone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, stimulating dopamine, and causing users to feel a heightened sense of pleasure and relaxation.
Today, Oxycodone is available via prescription in the United States, where it is typically sold in pill form. Increasingly, pills contain anti-abuse measures, making pills difficult to crush and inject, mixing the drug with anti-abuse drugs such as Naloxone, or otherwise taking strong preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of abuse.
Millions of Americans struggle with opiate addiction, although it’s difficult to say precisely how many abuse a specific drug such as Oxycodone. Opiates like Oxycodone typically cause addiction through a combination of tolerance, chemical dependence, and mental reliance. Most importantly, anyone who uses opiates, even for prescription purposes, is vulnerable to addiction.
Tolerance – Tolerance is the process of adjusting to a drug so that it no longer has the same effect. Drugs like opiates, which mimic the action of opiates produced in the body, are especially prone to tolerance. Here, users find that the original dose no longer has the same effect. Instead, they have to take more to get the same effect and have to continue doing so. This can lead to chemical dependence even with prescription use. In most cases, tolerance is a form of self-defense, where the body adjusts to levels of a chemical it produces itself, so that it balances how it reacts. Because this counters the desired effect, the individual is forced to take more to continue countering pain or to get high.
Chemical Dependence – Chemical dependence happens when the body is accustomed to having a drug in the system and has adjusted to that drug. Oxycodone effects the central nervous system through the opioid receptors. When someone stops taking it, they go into opiate withdrawal, developing a series of mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Mental Reliance – Mental reliance occurs when an individual thinks they need a drug to be okay. This happens over long-term prescription medication, where an individual might think they need Oxycodone to function without pain. It also occurs over long periods of abuse, when an individual thinks they need the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms, to not have cravings, or to simply feel okay and manage stress. Oxycodone can make withdrawal periods difficult for users because the drug causes relaxation and calm, so most will naturally feel more tense when not on the drug.
Most long-term Oxycodone users will become at least physically dependent on the drug. Opiates like Oxycodone are extremely addictive, and anyone with a long-term prescription should be on a risk evaluation and management strategy.
Effects of Oxycodone Abuse
Millions of people use Oxycodone, and many suffer the side-effects of taking too much of the drug too frequently. Oxycodone, like other opiates, can have severe effects on both physical and mental health.
Most people will experience common side effects including:
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite /weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Decreased ability to feel pain
During use, most individuals will experience respiratory and circulatory depression, typically aligned with the volume of the drug they took. These result in apnea, low blood pressure, symptoms of shock, inability to breathe, and sometimes coma and death.
In most cases, Oxycodone abuse causes long-term damage to the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in sometimes-permanent stomach disorders.
Most individuals will also experience a range of emotional and mental side-effects.
- Emotional blunting – Users are unable to experience emotions at a normal intensity
- Anxiety – Users experience increasing anxiety when not on the drug
- Paranoia – Users may experience paranoia and delusions, especially during periods of prolonged heavy use
- Depression – Many people experience periods of depression after periods of Oxycontin abuse
Individuals who are addicted to Oxycodone typically show symptoms of addiction, including changes in personality, hiding drugs and drug use, isolating themselves, and possibly lying and stealing to fund their drug habit.
Oxycodone withdrawal timelines will vary depending on whether the individual is taking a standard version of the drug or the more-common slow-release version, OxyContin. In addition, the severity, duration, and extent of Oxycodone withdrawal will vary depending on the individual, their dose, frequency of use, and duration of use.
In most cases, Oxycodone withdrawal will follow the following pattern:
Early Withdrawal – Individuals go into early withdrawal within 12-14 hours of their last dose, typically as the last of the drug leaves their system. Users begin to experience cold and flu symptoms, mood changes, agitation, restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety.
Withdrawal – Full withdrawal sets in after 24 hours and lasts up to two weeks. Initial symptoms worsen, individuals begin to experience moderate to severe stomach problems. Most will suffer nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and stomach pain. Anyone in this stage of withdrawal is at risk of dehydration and should seek out medical attention. Most will also experience increased agitation and anxiety, shivering, blurry vision, increased blood pressure, and discomfort. Most of these symptoms are discomfiting but not dangerous for anyone not suffering heart problems. These symptoms will begin to reduce after 3-7 days and will slowly fade out over 2 weeks.
Some rehabilitation centers will offer medically supported drug detox to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Getting Help for Oxycodone Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with Oxycodone, there is help. While Oxycodone is prescribed to more than 14 million people in the United States, it’s also recognized as a highly addictive drug. Most doctors now prescribe it with risk mitigation strategies and many new formulas include anti-abuse measures. If you’re already addicted, none of these measures help. Rehabilitation will.
Drug addiction treatment will approach Oxycodone addiction from the ground up, treating the holistic person to determine underlying causes of addiction, triggers, and contributing behaviors. This allows you to work on the causes of addiction in counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other forms of therapy to ensure you have the means to recover, move on, and live a happy life without oxycodone.