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Updated on August 31, 2021

Oxycodone Abuse, Addiction & Recovery

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a powerful narcotic drug painkiller that comes in pill or liquid form prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain for adults. Oxycodone is an opioid. 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 stimuli.

Oxycodone is the generic name of the brands OxyContin, Roxicodone, Roxybond, or Oxaydo. It is also combined with acetaminophen under the name Percocet.

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

Oxycodone comes in five forms: immediate-release tablet, immediate-release capsule, extended-release tablet, extended-release capsule, and solution. All of these are taken orally.

Opioid Crisis

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

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 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 hesitant to prescribe the drug Oxycodone. They have also put significantly better practices into monitoring a patient on the medication.

Side Effects of Oxycodone Use

As with any drug, there are side effects associated with oxycodone use. However, the severity of side effects varies from person to person. Common side effects in adults using oxycodone include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

There are serious side effects of oxycodone that you need to watch out for. Seek medical attention immediately because the following symptoms are considered a medical emergency:

  • Agitation
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tinge to the skin)
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Fainting
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle twitching or severe muscle stiffness
  • Respiratory problems such as slow breathing and shallow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Shivering
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, throat, hands, lower legs, feet, or ankles
  • Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)
  • Generalized Weakness 

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Risks Associated with Oxycodone

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

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 they 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.

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 oxycodone may 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 and other unintended consequences, especially when they take oxycodone without, or outside of, medical help or supervision.

Addiction 

Due to oxycodone being a highly potent opioid, there is a high potential for abuse and addiction. People who suffer through the addiction stage chemically alter their behavior and constantly think about the drug and 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

Withdrawal

An oxycodone-dependent person will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they abruptly stop taking the drug. Oxycodone is a highly potent drug. Hence, the dependence on the drug can run deep and can cause intense withdrawal symptoms, which may be life-threatening. 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

Overdose

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.

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Oxycodone Interactions

Oxycodone can interact with other drugs and substances that you are taking. The interaction may prevent the drug from working well, or it may even cause harm. To avoid these, tell your doctor about the medications that you're taking. 

Here are some drugs that may interact with oxycodone:

  • Alcohol
  • Anesthetics such as nalbuphine, butorphanol, and pentazocine
  • Antidepressants such as duloxetine, doxepin, fluvoxamine, and venlafaxine
  • Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam
  • Buprenorphine
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as isocarboxazid, phenelzine, and selegiline
  • Muscle relaxants such as methocarbamol, cyclobenzaprine, and baclofen

"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

Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction

Opioid use disorder is difficult to overcome. Fortunately, there are several options for help. These include:

  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) When it comes to medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder, there are three types approved: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Buprenorphine and methadone help manage withdrawal symptoms as you detox. Naltrexone blocks the receptors that opioids bind to, making it impossible to get high from them. Medication-assisted therapy is most effective when combined with other therapies.
  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient programs are the most intensive addiction treatment options. These programs guide you through medical supervised detoxification, behavioral therapy and other services such as medication-assisted therapy. They typically last 30, 60 or 90 days, but may be longer if necessary.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Intensive outpatient programs are the next level of addiction treatment, providing similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification and behavioral therapy. The difference is that the patient will return home to sleep, and some programs will include transportation and meals. PHPs are ideal for both new patients as well as those who have completed inpatient treatment but still need intensive care.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs provide a well-rounded treatment program for people with a high motivation to recover. These programs are flexible and can be made around for your schedule, and can be customized to work best for you. These programs work for new patients as well as those that complete an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

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Resources

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Fact 1022,” Truth, 5 June 2018,

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

Oxycodone (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names - Mayo Clinic,” Mayo Clinic.

Straight Talk - Oxycodone,” CAMH.

Moradi, Mohammad et al. "Use of Oxycodone in Pain Management," Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine 2012 Spring; 1(4): pp. 262-264.

Kalso, Eija. "Oxycodone," Journal of Pain and Symptom Management vol 29, issue 5, pp. 47-56.

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