Oxycodone is a prescription opioid pain reliever often sold under the brand names OxyContin, Percodan, and Percocet 1. Oxycodone—often called “oxy”—causes users to experience a pleasurable euphoria. In seeking Oxycodone’s pleasurable effects, users may misuse the drug by taking it without a prescription, taking it in larger amounts than prescribed, or tampering with it by snorting, smoking, or injecting it.
While any recreational use of oxycodone is dangerous due to the myriad of possible side effects, snorting may be even more dangerous as it can lead to additional serious medical complications as well as an increased risk of overdose
Oxycodone is one of the most frequently misused prescription drugs in the United States 2. In its various pharmaceutical formulations, it is available as an instant-release pill, where the drug is immediately released into the bloodstream, and as an extended-release version, where it is released slowly over a longer period of time. Some users may tamper with the extended-release pill by crushing it up and snorting it in order to release the effects all at once and experience an intense high 2. While any recreational use of oxycodone is dangerous due to the myriad of possible side effects, snorting may be even more dangerous as it can lead to additional serious medical complications as well as an increased risk of overdose 3.
While snorting oxycodone is not unique to any one demographic, certain groups may be at higher risk, including adolescents, women, and older adults 3. Surveys indicate that adolescents—especially young men—may be at higher risk of snorting oxycodone than other age groups 3,4. Adolescent abuse of oxycodone is a significant concern because it can lead to future opioid addiction 3. While men tend to misuse prescription drugs at higher rates than women, the rates of overdose among women is increasing at a significant rate 3. Older adults are also more likely to experience chronic health issues that require taking multiple drugs at once. This can lead to unintentional misuse and dangerous drug interactions 3. Understanding the dangers of snorting oxycodone, who is at risk, and the treatment options available can help people struggling with oxycodone addiction get the necessary help.
Is Snorting Oxycodone Dangerous?
Yes, snorting oxycodone is dangerous and can have serious and even deadly consequences. Snorting oxys not only quickens and intensifies the euphoric high from the drug 5, but it also increases the likelihood a user will experience significant medical or psychological problems, such as an overdose and nasal damage 3,6.
Along with the risk of medical complications, the likelihood of developing an addiction to oxycodone is significantly increased when a user administers the drug in ways other than prescribed 7.
Extended-Release Versions Increase Dangers
Extended-release was developed to minimize the drug’s addictive potential by slowly and steadily releasing the drug into the bloodstream, therefore reducing its euphoric effects. However, crushing up and snorting extended-release oxycodone can intensify its effects because the drug is released all at once, resulting in a maximum dose in a short period of time in the brain 5,7. This can increase the risk of breathing difficulties, coma, and addiction 7.
From Oxy to Heroin
Some oxy users may transition from prescription drugs to heroin 7. This can occur in users who develop a tolerance to oxycodone and eventually turn to heroin for a stronger high.
The transition may also be the result of affordability in many cases. Heroin is significantly cheaper than painkillers on the street. Painkiller addiction has been labeled a contributing factor to the increasing numbers of heroin users, new populations of heroin users, and overdoses from heroin. In fact, as opioid prescriptions rose, numbers of people trying and getting hooked on heroin did as well—the amount of heroin abusers doubled between 2005 and 2012 7.
While both oxycodone and heroin pose a significant risk of overdose, heroin is even more dangerous because it is almost impossible to know the purity of heroin sold on the street, as well as whether it has been contaminated with (or even replaced by) other drugs, such asfentanyl (an opioid much more potent than heroin) 7.
Users may abuse the drug because of its pleasurable effects. However, oxy can also cause unpleasantside effects such as 8:
- Mood swings.
- Dry mouth.
- Stomach pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Reddening of the skin.
Oxycodone is not meant to be snorted. In fact, the pills that contain oxycodone frequently include other ingredients such as talc, lactose, and stearyl alcohol, which may cause serious damage when insufflated 6.Snorting drugs like oxy may result in problems like 6:
- Nasal infections.
- Damage to the septum and roof of the mouth.
- Erosion of parts of the nasal passages.
Can Snorting Oxycodone Cause an Overdose?
Taking oxycodone as prescribed by a doctor is unlikely to lead to serious problems or overdose. However, overdose is an immediate risk for anyone snorting the drug and/or taking excessive amounts. Taking more than the intended dose of oxycodone even once can result in severe respiratory depression, where breathing slows down or stops completely 3.
You are more likely to overdose on oxycodone if you 3:
- Take more of the drug than prescribed.
- Snort the drug or take it in other ways different from that which is prescribed.
- Mix the drug with alcohol or other sedatives.
Symptoms of an oxy overdose include 9:
- Markedly constricted pupils.
- Bluish tint to the fingernails and lips.
- Stomach spasms.
- Uncontrollable vomiting.
- Dangerously low blood pressure and decreased pulse rate.
- Severe respiratory depression or complete inability to breathe.
- Extreme drowsiness and/or loss of consciousness.
With proper treatment, people may recover from an overdose. However, if left untreated, an overdose can result in permanent brain damage or death 9.
Numbers of opioid overdoses have risen to epidemic proportions, nearly quadrupling since 1999 4.
Signs That Someone is Addicted to Oxycodone
Snorting oxycodone increases the risk of addiction, since crushing and snorting elicits more heightened effects and an intensely rewarding sensation that reinforces continued use 7. Signs that a person is addicted to oxycodone may include 10:
- Taking larger amounts of oxy over time.
- Unsuccessfully trying to cut down.
- Spending a long time acquiring, taking, or recovering from oxycodone.
- Craving oxycodone.
- Inability to carry out obligations at home, work, or school.
- Continuing to use oxy despite relationship problems.
- Giving up activities that were once important in favor of obtaining and using oxy.
- Using oxy in hazardous situations.
- Continuing to use in spite of physical or psychological problems.
- Needing larger amounts of oxy to achieve the desired effects.
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms in the absence of oxy.
Other signs you may have noticed in a loved one who is snorting oxycodone include:
- Frequent sniffling.
- Nasal problems or damage.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia like straws and empty prescription bottles.
Admitting that you or a loved one is suffering from oxycodone addiction can be difficult. Fortunately, treatment programs and recovery groups are available to help.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, successful addiction treatment involves detox, medication, and therapy 3. There are several different options for getting help for oxycodone addiction:
- Detox is often the first step in recovery and focuses on safely removing drugs from the body. Withdrawing from painkillers like oxycodone can be unpleasant and risky, since withdrawal symptoms are often extremely uncomfortable and increase the risk of a relapse. Detox programs can help by monitoring withdrawal symptoms, administering medications to reduce discomfort, and providing support during the early part of the recovery process.
- Inpatient treatment is an intensive form of care that allows people in recovery to stay for a designated period of time in a sober facility during which the complete focus is on learning to live a sober life. Therapy sessions are offered daily, along with other amenities such as recovery meetings and exercise programs. Some inpatient programs are short-term while others are designed around longer-term residential stays which may last for up to 90 days or more, if needed.
- Outpatient treatment offers therapy sessions without housing services. The number of therapy sessions may vary depending on the type of program and how far along a person is in the recovery process.
Behavioral therapies are recommended for treating oxy addiction and may be incorporated into group, individual, or family therapy. Behavioral therapies have been proven to help reduce drug use and improve relationships and overall well-being 3:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people identify and change unhealthy thinking patterns that lead to detrimental behaviors like drug use. CBT also teaches coping skills for managing urges and high-risk situations that could lead to a relapse.
- Contingency management assumes that people will continue to engage in behaviors that are rewarded. Drug addiction is often rewarded with immediate pleasure and then followed by long-term pain, such as health, relationship, and financial problems. Contingency management seeks to immediately reinforce recovery by providing rewards for abstinence.
Medication-assisted treatment is also helpful for treating oxy addiction. Medications can be used to reduce withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and counter the effects of opioids if a relapse occurs 3. Medications are most effective when combined with behavioral therapy and sober support 3. Medications used to treat oxy addiction include 3,11:
- Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that prevents opioids from binding to their receptors and creating a high.
- Vivitrol, an injectable form of naltrexone.
- Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist that partially binds to opioid receptors to allay cravings.
- Methadone, an opioid agonist that decreases cravings and withdrawal symptoms in opioid-addicted individuals.
- Probuphine, a form of buprenorphine that is implanted under the skin and slowly releases the drug into the body over a span of 6 months.
Recovery support groups are free resources for people struggling with addiction. They can be a helpful addition to treatment because many people with addiction require continued support past the initial treatment phase. Some popular recovery support groups are:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) — a 12-step group that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. NA encourages members to admit their powerlessness over their addiction and put their faith in a higher power.
- SMART Recovery — another support group that provides support and tools based on the latest scientific research. It is based on a four-point system that includes increasing motivation for recovery, coping with cravings, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and living a balanced life. SMART Recovery helps to empower members to feel more in control of their addiction and recovery.
Committing to treatment is an important first step in recovering from oxycodone addiction. Call today for help finding an addiction treatment program.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Commonly abused drugs chart.
- Omidian, A., Mastropietro, D. J., & Omidian, H. (2015). Routes of opioid abuse and its novel deterrent formulations. Journal of Developing Drugs, 4(5), 1-7.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Research report series: Misuse of prescription drugs.
- Cicero, T. J., Ellis, M. S., Surratt, H. L., & Kurtz, S. P. (2013). Factors influencing the selection of hydrocodone and oxycodone as primary opioids in substance abusers seeking treatment in the United States. PAIN®, 154(12), 2639-2648.
- Gasior, M., Bond, M., & Malamut, R. (2016). Routes of abuse of prescription opioid analgesics: a review and assessment of the potential impact of abuse-deterrent formulations. Postgraduate Medicine, 128(1), 85-96.
- Lofwall, M. R., Moody, D. E., Fang, W. B., Nuzzo, P. A., & Walsh, S. L. (2012). Pharmacokinetics of intranasal crushed OxyContin and intravenous oxycodone in nondependent prescription opioid abusers. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 52(4), 600-606.
- Volkow, N. (2014). America’s addiction to opioids: Heroin and prescription drug abuse.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus, Oxycodone.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). MedlinePlus, Hydrocodone/oxycodone overdose.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Probuphine: A game-changer in fighting opioid dependence.