As a powerful analgesic painkiller, oxycodone (best known by brand names like OxyContin and Percocet) has been widely prescribed to cancer patients and others experiencing severe pain. Not only does it relieve pain, it promotes a feeling of peaceful sedation, and it can even produce a feeling of euphoria in high doses.
The effectiveness of oxycodone led it to become one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the US and many other countries. Unfortunately, this easy availability combined with the drug’s ability to produce a pleasurable high resulted in widespread abuse of and addiction to this semisynthetic opioid.
In order to combat this trend, pharmaceutical companies began producing oxycodone in controlled-release tablets. These pills come with a special coating designed to dissolve slowly in the stomach, allowing small amounts of the drug to be released over a long period of time. This works very well for people dealing with constant or chronic pain as a single pill can give them an entire day of relief. However, for people looking to get high, this created a challenge.
Swallowing, Snorting, Smoking, & Injecting Oxycodone
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Even when taking immediate-release tablets, it can take around a half-hour for the opioid to reach the brain and begin producing its effects. This is because anything taken orally needs to be broken down in the stomach before being moved to the intestines where the substance can be absorbed into the bloodstream, then finally transported to the brain via the bloodstream. Not only does this take time, it causes the drug to become more spread out in the system, resulting in a longer but less intense high.
To experience the intense euphoria that many drug abusers seek, they began crushing up prescription pills like OxyContin and Percocet so the powder could be snorted, smoked, or injected into the veins. This also works to get around the problem with controlled-release tablets. By bypassing the digestive system, users who crush up oxycodone can not only still get high, but can also experience a much more intense euphoria than they ever would from taking the drug whole.
However, there are many health issues associated with taking a drug in this form that don’t appear when taking a drug orally. These can include:
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- Chronic sinus infections
- Holes worn in the nasal septum
- Respiratory problems
- Burns from hot smoke
- Headaches and other issues from inhaling the fumes from the tablet coating
- Collapsed veins from repeated injections
- Increased risk of HIV and other blood-borne illness
due to the practice of needle sharing.
Another problem with crushing up oxycodone for a fast, intense high is that it increases the risk of developing an addiction to the drug. All opioids are fairly to highly addictive, and oxycodone in particular is responsible for many addiction disorders across the globe due to its potency. Addiction, of course, increases the chances of all other adverse effects from taking crushed oxycodone, as the affected individual is not only unable to stop, but must take higher and higher doses of the drug in order to feel anything due to the buildup of tolerance.
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Crushing any prescription drug to snort, smoke, or inject it tends to be a sign of a developing addiction disorder. If an addiction to oxycodone is suspected, the best thing that can be done is to speak to a medical professional as soon as possible, before the problem becomes worse.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Oxycodone is a semisynthetic prescription opioid medication, related to morphine and hydrocodone. It is found in a variety of prescription painkillers, from Percocet to OxyContin, which can treat moderate or severe pain from surgery, illness, or injury. People who take prescription oxycodone medications may take the drugs for a few days or weeks, until they heal, or the medication may be used daily to manage chronic pain.
While oxycodone is a very useful narcotic painkiller, it also has a high potential for abuse and addiction, like other narcotics including heroin and fentanyl.
What are the signs of addiction?
When a person struggles with addiction to a potent narcotic like oxycodone, they will display some physical changes as well as several behavioral changes. Signs of potential addiction include:
- Drowsiness and oversleeping
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating and other troubles with cognition
- Preferring to spend time alone, often ingesting oxycodone instead of spending time with friends or going to work or school
- Poor personal hygiene
- More secrecy, typically to hide the substance abuse
If a person is prescribed oxycodone to treat pain, potential signs of addiction include needing to take more to get the same effects; compulsively taking the drug, even when trying to stop; escalating the dose without a doctor’s supervision; taking the drug after the prescription is complete; finding other sources of the drug; and experiencing anxiety about taking the drug or ending the prescription.
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What are side effects of oxycodone?
A person can experience side effects from taking medications like oxycodone, even when they take the substance as prescribed. However, side effects become more likely to occur the longer a person takes the drug, especially for nonmedical reasons. Some of these side effects may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of physical strength
- Lack of motivation
- Mood changes, especially depression
What is the rate of addiction to oxycodone?
Starting in the early 1990s, prescribing practices around narcotic pain medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone changed. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that, in 1991, there were approximately 76 million prescriptions for opioid drugs, including oxycodone; by 2013, that number had escalated to 207 million prescriptions. While many people fill these prescriptions, take their medication as prescribed, and do not become addicted, many others develop an addiction to these substances. Lawmakers and medical professionals believe that lenient prescribing practices, combined with a lack of oversight, led to the current opioid drug addiction epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 1,000 people go to the emergency room every day due to issues with abuse of prescription painkillers, which includes overdoses from oxycodone products; about 52 people die every day because of these overdoses. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) notes that, in 2015, there were 2 million people ages 12 and older in the US who struggled with a prescription painkiller addiction or substance abuse problem.
Can oxycodone cause withdrawals?
Even if an individual takes oxycodone as prescribed, suddenly stopping the medication can lead to some withdrawal symptoms. This is why medical professionals who prescribe oxycodone work with their patients to develop a tapered approach to ease the body off dependence on the drug.
People who struggle with addiction to oxycodone are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, especially cravings and psychological changes, when they stop taking the drug or are not able to take it. The body develops a dependence on oxycodone to reach a normal neurochemical state, and without the presence of oxycodone, there are chemical changes to the brain that can lead to symptoms. Withdrawing from oxycodone or other opioids is not fatal, but the discomfort associated with detox can, without medical supervision, cause relapse and overdose.
Withdrawal symptoms include
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Nervousness, apprehension, impatience, and irritability
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
These symptoms typically peak after one week and dissipate after two weeks.
What drugs cause interactions with oxycodone?
Oxycodone can interact negatively with several drugs, both legal and illicit. Specific drug interactions include:
- Other opioids, including heroin
- Some antibiotics
- Some antifungal medications
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Some anti-nausea drugs
- Sleeping pills
- Sedatives and tranquilizers
- Herbal supplements like valerian or St. John’s wort
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (can stop the medication’s effectiveness)