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The Effects of OxyContin Use

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Is OxyContin Harmful?

OxyContin is an opiate that is often prescribed for moderate to strong post-surgical pain or more chronic pain situations. Prescription rates are high in the United States. The drug is comprised of oxycodone—a substance that derives from opiate alkaloids found in the opium poppy. As an opioid, it can produce a euphoric high, a key factor contributing to the prevalence of OxyContin abuse.

Originally, the makers of OxyContin took oxycodone and formulated a time-released pill that the company claimed would minimize its abuse potential due to a special coating. Oxycodone is relatively short-acting, but this new formulation would slowly dissolve and release the medication over time to prolong the duration of pain relief. In an attempt to bypass this time release mechanism, users seeking an intense high will sometimes crush the pill into a powder and either snort or inject it to create an intense and addictive high—both extremely dangerous practices.

OxyContin can be very harmful in the short-term, and its misuse can rapidly lead to addiction. You might notice tolerance developing even when taking it as prescribed, which means you will need to continually increase your dose of the substance to deliver the desired results.

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Short-Term Effects of OxyContin

OxyContin is an opiate painkiller. Drugs of this sort change the way a person perceives pain. They accomplish this by acting on the opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. Complex molecular interactions follow this interaction, including a decrease of GABA activity, and a subsequent upswing in the release of dopamine—a substance associated with feelings of reward and pleasure.

Once someone experiences this rush of dopamine, they may attempt to replicate the feeling by any means possible—laying the groundwork for a developing addiction.

Side Effects

Some common side effects of OxyContin abuse include:

  • Drowsiness and possible intermittent dozing off.
  • Delayed reactions, making it dangerous to operate machinery or drive while under the influence of the medication.
  • Pinpoint (constricted) pupils.
  • Constipation (a telltale sign of opiate abuse).

Long-Term Effects of OxyContin

  • Opiates may have severe effects on the brain and body, and OxyContin is no exception. Long-term effects include severe constipation and persistent vomiting caused by its direct action on the gastrointestinal tract as well as certain brain centers.
  • It can also cause muscle spasms, reduced reaction to stimuli, and a phenomenon called myoclonus, which entails jerky motor movements.
  • The respiratory system is at risk. OxyContin down-modifies cardiac and respiratory rate—potentially dangerously slowing the heart and the lungs enough to limit oxygen delivery to the brain and other vital organ systems.
  • If OxyContin has been injected, the risk of severe heart and lung problems rise dramatically, as septic contaminants and/or solidified pieces of the crushed medication can travel through the bloodstream causing blockage, infection, and widespread inflammation.
  • Injection sites can result in the appearance of track marks, which is where the skin has been punctured along with the vein. These have a good chance of becoming inflamed or infected, increasing the risk of septicemia.


OxyContin Dependence

OxyContin abuse often leads to OxyContin dependence, which means that you feel the drug is required to function in your daily life, and you use at the expense of other priorities or activities you enjoy.

Once you’ve become dependent on Oxycontin, you may miss work, fall behind on bills, and experience conflict in relationships because more of your resources and attention are consumed by attempts to obtain and use the substance.

Addiction and Withdrawal

Withdrawal is common if you have developed a physical dependency to OxyContin. Withdrawal signs often appear as ‘flu-like’ symptoms, and can include:

  • Increased pain sensitivity.
  • Diffuse body aches.
  • Increased restlessness and agitation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Chills.
  • Cold sweats.

OxyContin Withdrawal Treatment

OxyContin addiction treatment is functionally the same as most other forms of opiate addiction care. You’ll be given an assessment when you walk in the door, and this will determine the path your treatment plan will follow. Options include, but are not limited to: detox, inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment.

You may be started on another ‘stabilizing’ opiate regimen, such as buprenorphine, to manage your symptoms and reduce the discomfort of withdrawal. During detoxification, your opioid intake will slowly be reduced, and you’ll be taken through a very gradual withdrawal period. This is often much less painful than full withdrawal and increases the likelihood of successfully quitting the drug for good.

After detox, many people benefit from care in either a residential rehab program or an outpatient treatment program. These programs offer the chance to find support in recovery while learning the skills to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.

To help an Oxycontin addict, call our 24/7 hotline at  for more information.

To share your story or talk to others who understand, visit our Forum today.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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