OxyContin is the brand name for the powerful semisynthetic opioid oxycodone. It’s used to treat moderate to severe pain mainly in the form of either immediate-release or controlled-release tablets. Due to the fact that this substance can produce euphoria and a relaxed, peaceful high, it’s frequently abused. However, even if used as directed, many people experience adverse side effects upon taking OxyContin, and some of them can be severe.
Someone that takes OxyContin can experience mild to sever side effects. The severity of one’s symptoms is based on many factors. Some of these factors including the length of time and the amount of OxyContin taken. Common issues could include: headache, drowsiness, itching, nausea, and more. Serious issues could include: allergic reactions, shallow breathing, hallucinations, seizures, overdose, and more.
Mild Side Effects of OxyContin Use and Abuse
Most people who experience side effects from short-term, appropriate use of OxyContin will find that they fade away after a couple weeks at most. Common mild side effects can include:
- Increased sweating
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
The most common of these side effects are nausea, constipation, and drowsiness, each of which was experienced by around 23 percent of individuals in a test group.
Abuse of OxyContin in the form of taking more than directed at a time or within a certain time period is likely to increase the chances of experiencing any of these side effects. However, the more pressing concern is the fact that it increases the chance of severe and potentially dangerous effects.
Severe Side Effects of OxyContin Use and Abuse
A small number of people may experience severe side effects or allergic reactions to OxyContin. These adverse affects can be dangerous and become worse if you keep taking the medication. Contact a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following while on OxyContin:
- Shallow breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Difficulty urinating
- Cold, clammy skin
- Severe weakness
- Severe dizziness
- Severe stomach/abdominal pain
Signs of an allergic reaction, including a rash, itching, trouble breathing, or swelling of the face, tongue, or throat, require emergency medical services. This is not a complete list of possible side effects. Speak with a medical professional for more information.
If a substance like OxyContin is abused or taken for an extended period of time, there is a further risk of developing an addiction disorder. All opioids are addictive, and the heavy, long-term use that results from addiction exposes people to severe and dangerous long-term health effects of the drug. Abuse also puts individuals at risk of overdose.
Chronic use of opioids has been linked to hormone imbalances and hypogonadism, resulting in impaired sexual function and a range of other issues. Chronic constipation can result in serious gastrointestinal issues, up to and including colon cancer. The slowing of the respiratory system also puts users at increased risk of respiratory infections.
Overdose produces the most dangerous side effects. Too much of an opioid can cause significant respiratory depression, interfering with the body’s ability to get enough oxygen to the brain. This can lead to a life-threatening condition called hypoxia, causing rapid cell death in the brain and permanent brain damage if left untreated. Especially if mixed with other depressants, an OxyContin overdose can lead a person to slip into a coma or be fatal.
Prescription Drug Categories
Any use of OxyContin should only be done under the direction of a licensed medical professional. Furthermore, signs of abuse and addiction should be met with serious concern.
Frequently Asked Questions
OxyContin is a semisynthetic prescription opioid painkiller, designed to treat chronic, long-term pain that will not go away. Unlike other opioid pain medications, OxyContin has a high dose of oxycodone along with other compounds that, when taken properly, allow the medication to be released into the body over a period of 12 hours. This allows people with chronic pain conditions to function normally without taking pills every few hours.
However, because OxyContin contains a large amount of oxycodone, the drug has become a target for abuse. People who struggle with addiction to opioid drugs attempt to bypass the time-release properties of OxyContin by crushing and snorting it, or injecting it intravenously. Due to OxyContin’s highly addictive properties, addiction can quickly form when the drug is abused. OxyContin addiction can be dangerous and even fatal.
Are there risks of long-term use?
Tolerance to and dependence on OxyContin are two serious long-term risks. The body can develop a tolerance to opioids over time, so even people who take opioid painkillers as prescribed will need to increase their dose if they take the medication consistently over several years. A person’s body gets used to the amount of the drug that affects the brain’s chemistry, so it becomes less effective. People who abuse large doses of OxyContin and other narcotics, especially for a long time, can take dangerously large amounts of opioids to get the same effects. Dependence may occur when a person’s brain begins to need the same amount of opioid to adjust brain chemistry to normal levels. When a person develops tolerance and dependence, they are more likely to accidentally overdose or experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop taking the medication.
One of the most dangerous overdose symptoms is respiratory depression. This means the person is not getting enough oxygen, and the brain and organ systems begin to shut down. Additionally, people who snort OxyContin are likely to damage the mucous membranes in their nose and throat, and more likely to develop respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. People who inject the drug intravenously are more susceptible to infections, including hepatitis B and C, HIV, and bacterial infections in the skin, veins, and heart valves.
What treatment options work best for OxyContin addiction?
People who struggle with addiction to potent, high-dose narcotics like OxyContin often need medication to ease their body off dependence on the drug. Medical professionals can prescribe buprenorphine, a partial opioid-agonist, which comes in two brand names – Subutex and Suboxone – to transition their patient off addiction to narcotics. Buprenorphine was approved in the US in 2002 as an alternative to methadone. Physicians can receive training in how to dose buprenorphine and work with their patients in their office; for methadone, patients generally must visit a clinic on a daily basis.
Subutex is buprenorphine without anything added while Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, a medication that, by itself, temporarily stops opioids from binding to receptors in the brain. It is used alone to reverse overdoses long enough for the person to get emergency medical treatment. Combining buprenorphine and naloxone resulted in a medication that is more tamper-proof than Subutex.
Once the person has safely detoxed from OxyContin, they should enter a rehabilitation program for therapy to overcome their addiction. Medication is not enough to overcome addiction on its own; therapy makes up the backbone of addiction treatment.
What are the rates of OxyContin addiction?
OxyContin is one of the most commonly abused opioid medications in the US. It is among the prescription drugs most abused by people ages 24-59, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. White, non-Hispanic people are more likely to struggle with addiction and dependence on OxyContin and other opioid painkillers compared to any other demographic group. By 2014, nearly 2 million Americans abused, or were addicted to, narcotic prescription painkillers; about 1,000 people go to the emergency room every day because of opioids, and about 52 people die per day due to an opioid overdose.
The Food and Drug Administration found that, in 2008, about a half-million people in the US, ages 12 and older, used OxyContin specifically for nonmedical purposes. The 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey found that 3.7 percent of 12th graders had taken OxyContin for nonmedical reasons in the past year.
Can you overdose on OxyContin?
Because OxyContin is designed to treat pain for at least half a day, there is a large amount of oxycodone present in the medication. When taken as prescribed, the amount is not dangerous; however, when the drug is tampered with so a person can ingest the whole dose at once, OxyContin can rapidly lead to an overdose.
- Respiratory depression: shallow, slow, or irregular breathing
- Stupor: awake but unresponsive
- An inability to wake up
- Skeletal and muscle flaccidity: physical weakness, stumbling, and loss of coordination
- Cold and clammy skin
- Blue-tinged skin, especially around the lips or under the fingernails
- Bradycardia: slow heartbeat
- Hypotension: low blood pressure
- Pulmonary edema: excess fluid in the lungs
Call 911 immediately if a person is experiencing an overdose on OxyContin or other drugs. Emergency medical treatment is their best chance for survival.
Can OxyContin cause withdrawal symptoms?
A person who struggles with addiction to OxyContin can quickly develop physical dependence on this drug, which leads to withdrawal symptoms when the person stops taking the drug or reduces their dose. Withdrawal can occur in people who have taken the medication as prescribed, but it is more likely in people who take the substance at high doses for a long time. Although it is important to have medical supervision to safely detox from OxyContin abuse, withdrawing from opioid drugs is not physically dangerous.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Muscle and bone pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot and cold flashes
- Involuntary leg movements
- Cold or flu-like symptoms, including watery eyes and runny nose
Medical detox can help to mitigate withdrawal symptoms, ensuring clients make it through the withdrawal process safely and comfortably.