What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is a long-acting formulation of oxycodone, designed to treat pain for about 12 hours, but it can vary depending on the dose. This medication helps manage pain that is severe enough that it warrants daily, around-the-clock treatment. Many times OxyContin is prescribed if the person’s pain isn’t effectively managed by non-opioid treatments or short-acting opioids. Many people abuse oxycodone because of its euphoric and calming effects. It is a powerfully addictive drug that can be difficult to quit once you develop a pattern of problematic Oxycontin abuse.1
In order to enhance the high and bypass the time-release formula, the pill is often crushed and snorted or smoked. Both of these methods of ingestion force the drug to act rapidly on the body and can lead to serious side effects.
Side effects from ingesting large doses of oxycodone include:
- Respiratory depression, or shallow breathing.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Low blood pressure.
- Heart failure.
- Brain damage from oxygen deprivation.
The fastest method of ingesting an intoxicating substance like OxyContin is by smoking the drug. The chemical is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the alveoli in the lungs, which normally allow red blood cells to absorb oxygen to distribute throughout the body. Other substances, like tobacco or narcotics, can also be absorbed by these red blood cells instead of moving through the digestive system to be metabolized by the liver and intestines, and then into the blood.
After smoking, injection is the second fastest delivery method for intoxicating substances, which is part of the reason many people struggling with heroin addiction use needles. If smoking and injecting are not options for people who struggle with narcotics addiction, crushing and snorting forces the substance to become rapidly absorbed by the blood. It is also difficult to detect when people snort drugs until side effects begin, making the practice attractive to many users.
Effects of OxyContin Based on Method of Administration
Effects of Smoking
When OxyContin is smoked, the person quickly becomes intoxicated. They may display symptoms of intoxication, including:
- Confusion, delirium, or altered mental status
- Slow breathing
- Sleepiness or loss of alertness
- Small pupils
- Stomach problems, including nausea or vomiting
- Stumbling or loss of physical coordination
The euphoric effects of the drug will wear off more rapidly when opioids are ingested this way, so the person is more likely to smoke more. This cycle could lead to overdose and death.
Effects of Snorting
The onset of symptoms of intoxication is slower with snorting the drug, but crushing OxyContin into a powder still allows the person to bypass the time-release parts of the medication and ingest all the oxycodone at once. For people who switch from swallowing pills to snorting, potency can be a serious problem. Oral ingestion of drugs leads to a slower release, even if the drug has been tampered with. When the drug is snorted, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through mucous membranes in the nose and throat, so the opioid hits the brain faster. Effects can begin within two minutes after ingestion.
What Are the Harmful Side Effects Smoking vs Snorting
Overdose is the most serious side effect caused by high doses of OxyContin. The rapid delivery system and inability to properly dose OxyContin when it is smoked means that the person is more likely to ingest too much, and their brain will begin to shut down due to oxygen deprivation. Additionally, long-term smoking of any drug, including OxyContin, can lead to lung infections because of tissue damage, emphysema, or lung cancer. It is also often easy to tell when someone has been smoking because of chemical residues that linger on clothes, skin, hair, or breath.
The main side effect from snorting OxyContin, or other drugs, is damage to the nose and throat. This can lead to chronic nosebleeds, loss of smell or taste, and infections in the nose, throat, and upper respiratory system. Dosing problems can also quickly lead to overdose and death.
How to Overcome OxyContin Addiction
People who change delivery methods, such as moving from oral ingestion to smoking or snorting drugs, put themselves at a greater risk of overdose, dependence, addiction, and death. Rehabilitation programs that specialize in helping people overcome narcotics addiction can assist with withdrawal and then provide therapy to help the person achieve long-term recovery.
1. Food and Drug Administration. (2015). Medication Guide: OxyContin.