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What Are the Side Effects of Oxycodone?

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Is Oxycodone Dangerous?

Oxycodone is a prescription opioid analgesic that is used to manage moderate to severe pain by changing the way that the brain responds to pain.1 It is the primary active component in the commonly prescribed pharmaceutical formulations OxyContin and Percocet.1,2 Oxycodone is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a currently accepted medical use, but also has a high potential for abuse, and may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.3 [/content-overview]

In its various formulations, oxycodone is available as an oral tablet (with immediate and controlled-release variations) as well as a liquid solution. It is commonly prescribed as a combination product with other drugs such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, with each combination having a different brand name.1 Brand names include OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet, and Percodan. Street names for oxycodone include “oxy,” “kickers,” “blue,” and “hillybilly heroin.”4

At certain doses, oxycodone may elicit an intensely rewarding, positive experience for the user.2,4 As such, it has a high potential for abuse. When misused, there is a high risk for overdose, as recreational methods of ingesting certain formulations may accelerate the absorption of large, dangerous amounts of the drug.

Short-Term Effects

When taken as prescribed, oxycodone can be a very effective painkiller. However, for some people, even at prescribed doses its use may be associated with other desirable effects, such as:

  • Mild euphoria.
  • Relaxation.
  • Sedation.
  • Reduced anxiety.

Side Effects

Oxycodone is a powerful opioid painkiller. Its therapeutic effects may also be accompanied by a number of unwanted side effects:1,2,4

Did You Know?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2017, approximately 1.7 million people were found to be prescription opioid-dependent, based on the DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder.5

  • Mood changes
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Itching
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2017, approximately 1.7 million people were found to be prescription opioid-dependent, based on the DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder.5

Rapid effects of oxycodone use are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol or other respiratory depressing drugs.

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:1,2,4

  • Postural hypotension
  • Lightheadedness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Irregular heart rate and/or rhythm
  • Chest painDifficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Seizures

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.1

Rapid effects of oxycodone use are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol or other respiratory depressing drugs. The combined effects of such drugs could result in much higher risk of harm or death, particularly from severe respiratory slowing and overdose.1

Long-Term Dangers

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 impact on both mental and physical health and, especially when misused, can increase one’s risk of developing significant physiological dependence and addiction.

Some combination products present even further risk. Chronic or extended use of any medication combining oxycodone and acetaminophen in doses that exceed recommendations could increase the risk of 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 larger, more frequent 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 a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Physiological 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, and this can lead to tolerance. Tolerance, which can quickly develop with drugs like oxycodone, is a phenomenon that results in your requiring more and more of the drug to achieve desired effects, and this ramping up in drug use behavior can further drive the development of physiological dependence.

Withdrawal Treatment

There are several options for treating oxycodone dependence. The first phase of treatment will often involve medical detoxification. Opioid detox ideally should be managed with the help of a medical team, as withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and may send the user back to using in avoidance of the symptoms.

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms may include:1,2,4

  • Irritability, anxiety, and depression.
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Restlessness.
  • Muscle or joint aches and pains.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Increased heart and breathing rate.
  • Flu-like symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, watering eyes, sweating, chills).

Treatment following detox will usually involve behavioral counseling and, in some cases, medications. The combination of therapy and medications is referred to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The combination of MAT with counseling and behavioral therapies provides an approach that treats the whole person.6 While there is a concern by some that MAT is simply replacing one drug with another, MAT is intended to help relieve the potentially-severe symptoms of acute opioid withdrawal with a carefully metered dose of treatment drug to allow focus on recovery and reduce the risk of relapse with the previously-misused drug.6

There are several FDA-approved drugs commonly used in treating opioid use disorders. These medications may include:6

  • Naltrexone: Blocks the activation of opioid receptors to decreases the likelihood of continued opioid misuse.
  • Methadone: A long-acting synthetic opioid that helps with withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings.
  • Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist drug, buprenorphine can also stabilize someone in opioid withdrawal and decrease cravings.

Non-pharmacologic therapeutic approaches will serve as the basis for treating oxycodone addiction. One of the most common approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to address issues that may have contributed to the development of or otherwise support an ongoing addiction, change maladaptive patterns of behavior, and help people develop coping and relapse prevention skills.

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Senior Medical Editor
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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