As a powerful opioid 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 produces a feeling of calm, and it can even produce euphoria in high doses.
The effectiveness of oxycodone led it to become one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. 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
Taken as Prescribed
Even when taking immediate-release tablets, it can take some time 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 traveling to the intestines where the substance can be absorbed into the bloodstream, then finally transported to the brain via the bloodstream. This action results in a longer but less intense high.
Prescription Drug Abuse
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 rush than they ever would from taking the drug orally.
However, there are many health issues associated with taking a drug in this form that don’t appear when taking a drug orally. These dangers can include:
Intravenous drug use is responsible for 10 percent of all new HIV cases
- Chronic sinus infections.
- Nose bleeds.
- Perforated 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 infectious diseases.
every year 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 addictive, and oxycodone in particular is responsible for many cases of addiction across the globe. Addiction, of course, increases the chances of experiencing other adverse effects, as the 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 development of tolerance.
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Crushing any prescription drug to snort, smoke, or inject it tends to be a sign of a developing substance use 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 worsens.
Prescription Drug Categories
Frequently Asked Questions
Oxycodone is a semisynthetic prescription opioid medication; it is chemically related to codeine. It is found in a variety of brand name prescription painkillers, from Percocet to OxyContin, which can treat moderate or severe pain from surgery, illness, or injury. People who take oxycodone may take the drug 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 opioids 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 opioid addiction include:
- Drowsiness and oversleeping.
- Lack of motivation.
- Difficulty concentrating and other cognitive impairments.
- Preferring to spend time alone, often using oxycodone instead of spending time with friends or going to work or school.
- Poor personal hygiene.
- Secretive behaviors, typically to hide the substance abuse.
- Problems at work, school, or home due to oxycodone use.
- Psychological or medical issues due to oxycodone use.
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.
- 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 climbed 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, more than 40% of U.S. opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were due to a prescription painkiller. More than 46 people die every day because of opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin.
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.
Can oxycodone cause withdrawal symptoms?
Even if an individual takes oxycodone as prescribed, suddenly stopping the medication can lead to the emergence of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This is why medical professionals who prescribe oxycodone work with their patients to develop a tapering schedule to gradually reduce the dose of the drug.
People who struggle with addiction to oxycodone are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, especially cravings, when they stop taking the drug or are not able to take it. The body develops a dependence on oxycodone to function optimally, and without the presence of oxycodone, withdrawal symptoms occur. Withdrawing from oxycodone or other opioids is not fatal, but the discomfort associated with detox can, without medical supervision, cause relapse and potential overdose.
Withdrawal symptoms include
- Runny nose.
- Excessive sweating.
- Dilated pupils.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Muscle aches.
- Excessive yawning.
The onset and course of oxycodone withdrawal symptoms will largely depend on its specific formulation. Immediate-release pills will likely produce a more rapid onset of symptoms with a quicker overall resolution, while controlled-release pills may lead to a delayed onset of symptoms with a longer timeline of resolution.
What drugs cause interactions with oxycodone?
Oxycodone can interact negatively
with several drugs, both legal and illicit. Specific dangerous drug interactions include
- Other opioids, including heroin.
- Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium.
- Other central nervous system depressants, like GHB, ketamine, Rohypnol, etc.
- Dextromethorphan (DXM).
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Celexa, and Prozac.
- Tricyclic antidepressants, like Anafranil and Norpramin.
- Some migraine medications.
- Sleeping pills, like Ambien.
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice.