- Table of ContentsPrint
- What Is Oxycodone?
- Signs and Symptoms
- Effects of Oxycodone Abuse
- Oxycodone Abuse Treatment
- Statistics on Oxycodone Abuse
- Teen Oxycodone Abuse
- Resources, Articles and More Information
What Is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a pain-relieving drug that is prescribed frequently to address moderate to severe pain. The substance is found alone and in combination with other pain relievers in a tablet form under several brand names including:
- OxyContin – oxycodone; both immediate and controlled release formulations.
- OxyIR and OxyFast – oxycodone immediate release.
- Percodan – oxycodone and aspirin.
- Percocet – oxycodone and acetaminophen.
Oxycodone is synthesized, in part, by chemical modification of opioid precursor molecules which are obtained from the opium poppy. Despite being manufactured in a lab, oxycodone impacts the user in ways similar to other legal and illegal opioids. Also, like other opiate and opioid drugs, oxycodone is capable of delivering a powerful high—rendering it a potential drug of abuse for an alarming number of individuals.
Additionally, oxycodone use will put someone at risk for developing tolerance and dependence. People are at risk of these phenomena even when the medication is taken as prescribed and, over time, addiction may be the end result. Those addicted to prescription opiates like oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem.
Signs and Symptoms
When someone uses oxycodone they will experience a range of signs and symptoms related to its activity at opioid receptors throughout the body—essentially depressing multiple functions throughout the body in a manner consistent with other opioid substances.
The signs will vary somewhat depending on the specific formulation of oxycodone. Controlled release OxyContin will provide signs that may be of lower intensity that last for an extended period – as long as 12 hours – whereas drugs like OxyIR and other immediate release variants can trigger stronger symptoms for a shorter duration. The specific dose and the method used to consume the substance will additionally influence the impact on an individual as well. Some of the ill-advised alternate routes of administration of oxycodone include crushing the tablets and either snorting them, or dissolving them in aqueous solution to be injected.
- Perceptions of less physical pain.
- Feelings of joy and happiness referred to as euphoria.
- Release of muscular tension.
- Mental calm or relaxation.
Unwanted Signs and Symptoms
- Slowed or difficult breathing.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Alternating periods of sleep and consciousness.
Potential Signs of Overdose
- Constricted pupils, non-reactive to light.
- Periods of extreme sedation; difficult to wake.
- Lack of responsiveness (even to painful stimuli).
- Respiratory arrest.
- Cyanotic, or bluish appearance to lips, fingernails.
The following video shows interviews with several people struggling with oxycodone addiction. The video illustrates the powerfully addictive nature of this drug.
Warning: this video contains some explicit language.
Effects of Oxycodone Abuse
Oxycodone is considered an opioid receptor agonist. One of the effects of this molecular interaction between the drug and receptor is in increasing dopamine activity in key brain regions.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, in part responsible for the effects of the drug. Also, dopamine is associated with the brain's reward system—meaning that people experiencing this type of dopaminergic activity will value the sensation and try to repeat it in the future. This leads to abuse of the drug and, as previously mentioned, some of the effects of abuse include tolerance, physiological dependence and, ultimately, addiction.
As the body continues to experience the effects of oxycodone, it begins to adjust to the levels so that the same amount will have a decreased effect.
This process is called tolerance.
With tolerance in place, the user will seek out more of the substance to achieve the desired effects of the drug.
People that begin using the drug in excess of prescribed amounts, using it for reasons other than prescribed, and using oxycodone that is not prescribed to them are displaying indicators of addiction.
An addiction is likely to have taken hold at the point that a person continues to use a substance that they know is having an unwanted influence in their life. People addicted to oxycodone may:
- Lie and steal to obtain more of the drug.
- Display changed interests and personality characteristics.
- Neglect other aspects of life while devoting more attention to obtaining and using oxycodone.
- Try to acquire more of the substance by providing false medical histories to medical professionals, forging prescriptions or visiting multiple doctors to receive multiple prescriptions.
- Continue use even when confronted by medical, interpersonal, legal or financial hardships.
Dependence and Withdrawal
Oxycodone addiction is related to dependence. Dependence is when the brain becomes so accustomed to the presence of – as well as physical and mental effects of a drug – that it cannot function normally without it. Once dependence is established, the user will need to maintain a supply of "oxy" or face withdrawal symptoms like:
- Rebound pain, or increased pain sensitivity.
- Restlessness and agitation.
- Inability to sleep.
- Gastrointestinal problems including appetite changes, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
- Diaphoresis or excessive sweating.
- Feeling cold and shivering.
Interestingly, people using other opiate or opioid substances – such as heroin – will sometimes use drugs containing oxycodone to reduce or eliminate their own withdrawal symptoms.
Oxycodone Abuse Treatment
The withdrawal symptoms of oxycodone can be quite uncomfortable and long lasting. Because of this, individuals attempting to quit oxycodone often benefit from seeking professional treatment.
Depending on the amount, frequency, and duration of time using oxycodone, a supervised detox may be recommended. Detoxification is the purposeful reduction of oxycodone in the body. This is often completed in an inpatient setting so that medical professionals can tend to the patient—ensuring safety and comfort.
During this process, other medications may be prescribed to reduce cravings and other unpleasant symptoms.
When detox is complete, patients can be referred to a number of treatment options such as:
Residential rehab programs have the patient in recovery living at the treatment center for a period of time. Treatment program lengths vary, but tend to ranging from several weeks to several months—a period throughout which there is intensive focus on recovery throughout each day. Addiction therapy can be administered via outpatient programs as well. Outpatient addiction treatment is less time intensive than inpatient or residential programs, but typically involves daily or weekly (depending on level of need) counseling and education sessions to discuss recovery and learn methods to maintain abstinence.
Statistics on Oxycodone Abuse
Oxycodone has been a dangerous substance growing in popularity over the last 20 years. Consider these statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration:
- Nearly 60 million prescriptions for oxycodone-containing drugs were written in 2013.
- In 2012, 16 million people reported abusing oxycodone in their lifetime, which is an increase of more than a million individuals compared with the previous year.
- In 2011, oxycodone was responsible for more than 150,000 ER visits.
- In 2009, law enforcement documented more oxycodone-related infractions than any other prescription drug.
To learn more, visit our page Oxycodone History and Statistics.
Teen Oxycodone Abuse
Adults are not the only ones abusing forms of oxycodone like OxyContin. Since the prescription drug is found in many home medicine cabinets, it is easily accessible for teens. Frequently, teens are introduced to the drug by friends at school.
Because it is a legal prescription drug, many teens may view oxycodone as a harmless high. As mentioned above, however, many abusers – including teens – end up becoming addicted. As a crackdown on overprescribing practices and heightened attention to a growing prescription drug abuse issue continues to upregulate the price and decrease availability of drugs like oxycodone, young people are switching to illicit street drugs such as heroin at alarming rates.
It’s extremely important to talk to your teen about the dangers of prescription opiate abuse before it's too late.
Resources, Articles and More Information
For more information, please see the following articles:
- Blog: How Concerned Should We Be About Opiates?
- Effects of Oxycodone Use
- Effects of Opiates on the Body
You can also hear from others by visiting our Forum today.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2014). OXYCODONE.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.