What Are the Side Effects of Oxycodone?
- Table of ContentsPrint
- Is Oxycodone Dangerous?
- Short-Term Effects
- Side Effects
- Long-Term Dangers
- Development of Dependence
- Withdrawal Treatment
Is Oxycodone Dangerous?
Oxycodone is a prescription opiate analgesic—or "painkiller"—that works by changing the way that the brain responds to pain. It is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, and commonly supplied under the brand names OxyContin and Percocet.
It is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it:
- Has a high potential for abuse.
- Has a currently accepted medical use.
- May lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Oxycodone can come in liquid or pill form (with immediate and controlled-release variations), and is often prescribed as a combination product with other drugs such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen, with each combination having a different brand name. Brand names include OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet and Percodan. Street names for oxycodone include "oxy," "kickers," "blue," and "hillybilly heroin," among others.
Oxycodone can produce intensely positive feelings and rewarding sensations in the user. As such, it has a high potential for abuse. When used recreationally, there is a high risk for overdose, as recreational methods of ingesting it often accelerate the absorption of large, dangerous amounts of the drug.
When taken as prescribed, oxycodone can bring about the following desirable feelings:
- Extreme relaxation.
- Reduced anxiety.
- Pain relief.
Oxycodone is a powerful opioid painkiller. Its positive, pain-reducing effects can also come with a number of unwanted side effects:
Did You Know?
According to SAMHSA, in 2013, approximately 1.9 million people were found to be prescription opioid-dependent, based on the DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorder.
SAMHSA also found that the United States is the world’s largest consumer of oxycodone per capita, and illicit prescription opioid use is now more common in the US than heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine combined.
- Loss of appetite.
- Dry mouth.
- Stomach pain.
- Mood changes.
These side effects can make the user uncomfortable, and tend to get worse as the dose increases. Other side effects can be much more serious and may require immediate medical help:
- Irregular heart rate and/or rhythm.
- Chest pain.
- Hives, itching, or rash.
- Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs.
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Postural hypotension.
Some of the most dangerous side effects of oxycodone use are associated with the breathing problems that it may create. A markedly slowed respiratory rate can quickly turn life-threatening, especially in overdose situations.
Rapid effects of oxycodone use are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol. Alcohol and opioids combine similar effects and result in much higher risk of harm or death, particularly from severe respiratory problems and overdose.
Symptoms of oxycodone overdose include:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Slowed or stopped breathing.
- Excessive sleepiness.
- Limp or weak muscles.
- Narrowing or widening of the pupils.
- Cold, clammy skin.
- Slow or stopped heartbeat.
- Cyanosis (blue color of skin, fingernails, lips, or mouth area).
- Loss of consciousness or coma.
It's important to take action immediately when you see the signs of an opiate overdose. Learn how at our blog, Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose.
Over time, oxycodone can have many different effects—both good and bad. For some, oxycodone is very effective at managing their pain, especially for those suffering from chronic pain.
On the other hand, oxycodone can have detrimental psychological and physiological impacts, including dependency.
Oxycodone use has been found to be associated with kidney and liver failure, as well as a reduction in the brain’s ability to adapt to new input, which may account for the shift from controlled to compulsive use.
Combination products present even further risk. Chronic or extended use of any medication combining oxycodone and acetaminophen may result in severe liver damage. This risk is profoundly increased when an oxycodone/acetaminophen combination drug is abused simultaneously with alcohol.
Long-term prescription use presents risks that you should discuss with a doctor. Long-term recreational use often involves higher, faster doses that can lead to life-changing damage.
Development of Dependence
Oxycodone is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has been determined to have highly addictive properties and a high potential for dependence.
Oxycodone dependence can be both psychological and physical:
- Psychological dependence often stems from the feeling of euphoria that users experience at first. Users want to continue feeling as euphoric and relaxed as their early use, sometimes even seeking higher doses in hopes of amplifying the effects.
- Physical dependence on oxycodone involves adaptation to a persistently heightened presence of drug in one's system. After some duration, certain physiologic processes are impeded when the drug isn't available. Additionally, tolerance can quickly develop—a phenomenon that means you will eventually need more and more of the drug in order to achieve the same effects.
There are several options for treating an oxycodone dependency. The first phase of treatment will always involve detoxification. Opioid detox ideally should be carefully monitored by an experienced professional, as withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and may send the user back to using in avoidance of the symptoms.
Some common oxycodone withdrawal symptoms include:
- Watery eyes.
- Flu-like symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, sweating, chills).
- Muscle or joint aches and pains.
- Muscle weakness.
- Irritability, anxiety, and depression.
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Loss of appetite.
- Increased heart and breathing rate.
Treatment following detox will involve behavioral counseling and, in some cases, medications. The combination of therapy and medicatons is referred to as medication-assisted treatment. Some common medications used to ease recovery from opioid dependence are:
- Naltrexone – Prevents opioids from fully activating receptors in the brain.
- Vivitrol – An extended release, injectable form of Naltrexone.
- Methadone – Long-acting synthetic opioid that helps with withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings.
Non-pharmacologic therapeutic approaches will serve as the basis for treating oxycodone dependency. One of the most common approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses the underlying reason for the dependency and develops coping skills to prevent relapse.
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- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.