Oxycodone Abuse, Addiction & Recovery

Oxycodone belongs to the opioid class of drugs. It is one of the most commonly abused prescription medications. It is also one of the most addictive drugs. Even short-term abuse can cause a number of adverse health effects.
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What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a powerful narcotic drug painkiller that comes in pill or liquid form prescribed for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain for adults. Oxycodone is an opioid. Therefore, it comes from the opium poppy plant and is in the same drug family as fentanyl, morphine, and heroin. It is a central nervous system depressant and blocks how the brain responds to pain stimulus.

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Oxycodone, the generic name, goes by the brand name OxyContin, Roxicodone, Roxybond, or Oxaydo. It is also combined with acetaminophen under the name Percocet.

Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Flushing
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Itching and rash
  • Seizure

There are some severe risks associated with Oxycodone, as it is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs.

In 2013, the United States, which continued to be the principal consumer of Oxycodone, accounted for 78 percent of the world total.

Oxycodone pill

Though prescribed orally, abusers of the drug use other methods to maximize the high, including crushing it into powdered form and snorting, smoking the drug, or injecting it. Some people even insert the pill rectally to achieve a longer-lasting high. The risks associated with its abuse include:

  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Withdrawal
  • Overdose
  • Death

Such risks can occur due to intentional misuse of the drug, or it may occur entirely unintentionally. The vast majority of addiction cases start innocently. Pain can be very subjective, and only those suffering from pain genuinely know the level and type of pain. Some of the different kinds of pain that doctors prescribe Oxycodone for may include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Paroxysmal pain, which is a severe pain disorder and affects various parts of the body
  • Post-surgery pain
  • Pain from injury
  • Some cancer patients, particularly those in advanced stages of cancer, use Oxycodone to manage the pain
  • The condition allodynia, where people have a pain response to something that wouldn't usually cause pain
  • Hyperalgesia, or high sensitivity to pain
Graphic of head filled with pills

Dependence

Dependence is a term used to describe a person’s physical and psychological loss of control. This occurs when a person abuses or misuses this drug, among others.

Abuse or misuse of the drug will occur when:

  • A patient takes more of the drug than prescribed
  • A patient takes the drug without a prescription altogether
  • When used in any way other than intended

People become at high risk for dependence and addiction, as well as other unintended consequences.

Once dependent, a person will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they abruptly stop taking the drug. Oxycodone is a highly potent drug. Hence, the dependence of the drug can run deep and can cause intense withdrawal symptoms. These may include:

  • A strong craving for the drug
  • Profuse sweating and clamminess
  • Runny nose
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stomach cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
Pill bottle and skull

Addiction Information

Due to being a highly potent opioid, addiction is a high risk for those that abuse Oxycodone. People that suffer through the addiction stage chemically alter their behavior and find themselves constantly thinking about the drug and will pursue it at all costs.

Because pain is a legitimate concern for people with an Oxycodone prescription, it may be challenging to identify someone as addicted. The drug is legal, so the outward symptoms of addiction may be subtle and difficult to pick up on right away.

For many, addiction may set in unknowingly to the person taking the drug. The symptoms of addiction can include:

  • Depression
  • Neglect of personal relationships and isolation
  • A decline in fulfilling responsibilities at work and home
  • Visible fatigue and drifting off
  • Strong desire to use the drug, particularly with frequent visits to the ER to coax doctors into writing them a prescription
  • Seemingly distant or "nodding out."
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Lapses in memory
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Visiting different physicians to obtain codeine prescriptions, also known as doctor shopping
Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Overdose Symptoms

An oxycodone overdose can cause severe symptoms and even death. It is a central nervous system (CNS) suppressant. Therefore, large quantities become toxic, drastically affecting vital systems in the body, especially breathing.

Initial symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Vomiting and stomach cramps
  • Slurred speech and loss of basic motor functions
  • Slow pulse and low blood pressure
  • Pin-point-shaped pupils
  • Blue lips and fingertips
  • Cold to the touch
  • Clammy skin
  • Seizure

A person's breathing slows to a dangerously low pace. Hence, this causes a lack of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. In many cases, breathing stops altogether, resulting in permanent, irreversible damage to the brain and other organs, coma, and even death. Immediate medical attention is required.

The drug Naloxone, an opioid agonist, is often used to remove Oxycodone from the brain's receptors and counteract its effects. Fast-acting, people normally experience instant withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid Crisis

"One of the highest priorities of the FDA is advancing efforts to address the crisis of misuse and abuse of opioid drugs harming families. Opioids are claiming lives at a staggering rate, and overdoses from prescription opioids are reducing life expectancy in the United States."

Food and Drug Administration

The over-prescribing issue of opioids has reached epidemic levels. It is deemed as the "Opioid Epidemic", as Oxycodone continues to be among the most significant contributors to this problem.

Many doctors are pressured or receive kickback payments from pharmaceutical companies, and such greed has led to opioid-related addiction and deaths at a staggering rate. The alarming numbers continue to rise year after year.

In the wake of the ongoing crisis, much awareness has developed, and doctors are much more hesitant to prescribe the drug Oxycodone. They have also put significantly better practices into monitoring a patient on the medication.

Graphic of hospital.

Addiction Treatment Options

If Oxycodone use develops to physical dependency, a physician will often have a patient taper off of the drug. This method is necessary to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. If addiction has occurred, a person usually needs to seek medical, emotional, and psychological help to aid in recovery and prevent relapse.

The most crucial step towards recovery is to identify and admit the problem and have a desire to change. Often, people have become addicted and are unaware or in denial. Intervention can be a turning point towards taking the first step. Accordingly, in-patient rehabilitation is the most effective form of treatment and may be needed to get a person substance-free.

A doctor may also prescribe a medication to address underlying issues that may have lead to addiction, such as depression or PTSD. But to find this out, a person has to detox and through therapy. This is due to the fact that some of the symptoms of substance use disorder (SUD) mimic those of mental health issues.

Thus, a multi-discipline approach is needed in successful treatment. There are many options for long-term support, including treatment programs, counseling, support groups, and hotlines, among others. Likewise, help from family and friends is undoubtedly helpful for long-term success.

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Resources

“Fact 1022.” Truth, 5 June 2018, https://www.thetruth.com/o/the-facts/fact-1022

“Opioid Medications.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 24 Oct. 2019, Opioid Medications.

“Oxycodone (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names - Mayo Clinic.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/oxycodone-oral-route/description/drg-20074193

“Straight Talk - Oxycodone.” CAMH, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/straight-talk-oxycodone

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Updated on: July 20, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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