One of the oldest and biggest contributors to the ever-growing opioid epidemic, Oxycodone addiction is overpowering, widespread, and deadly.
In fact, according to the DEA, an astounding 58.8 million prescriptions for Oxycodone were dispensed in 2013 around the country.
Abuse of Oxycodone drugs like OxyContin and Percocet has become so extensive that for many, these drugs are the face of the current opioid crisis today.
And while the drugs themselves are undoubtedly notorious when it comes to addiction, many people don’t know even the most basic information about what Oxycodone is. How does it work? What makes it different from other drugs? How addictive is it and what does it take to push through withdrawals and finally get clean?
Tackling these questions and more, this master guide to Oxycodone addiction will help you understand just why this powerful drug has become so popular, so dangerous, and so feared today.
Oxycodone is the technical name for a certain kind of opioid pain reliever, also known as a narcotic analgesic. These drugs are prescribed for patients going through both acute and chronic moderate to severe pain.
There was a time when the dangers of opioids weren’t as well-known as they are today. Part of this misinformation was from pharmaceutical companies not properly disclosing the risks (some states have actually begun suing them as a result). Consequently, many doctors tended to overprescribe these medications, giving them to patients for everything from a sore back to a headache.
Many physicians, however, have begun prescribing opioids like Oxycodone as a last resort due to the high addictive potential of these drugs.
Instead, Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic (partially man-made) compound that comes from the naturally occurring thebaine. Other semi-synthetic opioids include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxymorphone, and hydromorphone (e.g., Dilaudid).
While Oxycodone can be quite powerful and even deadly when abused, it actually isn’t the most potent of the opioid drugs.
For example, Oxycodone is about 50% more powerful than morphine and hydrocodone. But methadone is about 3 times stronger than morphine, while heroin is about 2 to 5 times stronger.
Fentanyl is easily one of the strongest of all opioid drugs – coming in at anywhere from 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
That being said, the real danger of this drug isn’t necessarily because it’s the most powerful. Instead, it’s partly because Oxycodone is so freely available. OxyContin, one formulation of Oxycodone, became so popular so quickly that prescriptions increased tenfold over the course of 1996 to 2002.
One reason that opioids like Oxycodone have become so popular in the medical field today has to do with the fact that they’re fantastic at relieving pain. And it all has to do with how these drugs interact with specialized cells in the brain and body called opioid receptors.
Opioid receptors, specifically the mu-opioid receptors, help control pain and regulate emotions.
These receptors are normally stimulated by naturally occurring chemicals in the body called endorphins. The chemical structures of prescription opioids like Oxycodone mimic that of endorphins – giving them the ability to activate these same receptors. And often times, they end up doing so to a much higher degree.
What makes opioid medications so fantastic at treating pain is the fact that these receptors are found in three critical parts of the body: the limbic system, the brainstem, and the spinal cord.
Despite what many people may think, Oxycodone is not the same as OxyContin. OxyContin is one of the most popular brands of the opioid, true, but these terms should not just be used interchangeably.
In fact, there are plenty of other brand names besides OxyContin that include Oxycodone. Some of the most popular are:
However, all of these products fall under three main categories of how Oxycodone is used in their formulation:
Like many other prescription drugs today, Oxycodone is also sold on the street. And as a result, users and pushers have developed street names for the drug. Some of the most popular include:
Humans have long known about both the power and the pull of opioids. According to the History Channel, references to the cultivation and use of the opium poppy go as far back as 3,400 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia.
Since then, opium has been used to aid in pain relief, insomnia, and even in treating minor conditions like the common cold. Heroin, the most infamous opioid, was actually developed as a medical pain reliever and a less-addictive alternative to morphine.
Oxycodone was later deemed a Schedule II narcotic by the DEA in the 1970s. It was around this time that two big-name prescription opioids, Vicodin (hydrocodone + acetaminophen) and Percocet (Oxycodone + acetaminophen) came onto the market. However, most physicians were well aware of the addictive potential of opioids in general and prescribed them conservatively.
It was the development and aggressive marketing of OxyContin, a purely Oxycodone product, that truly changed the medical community.
While this drug was found to be incredibly good at relieving the pain of patients, it’s especially high addictive potential and widespread over-prescribing by physicians helped set the foundation for the opioid epidemic that’s still raging today.
Before getting into just how Oxycodone helped create one of the biggest health crises the United States has ever seen, let’s take a minute to recognize just how bad the opioid epidemic has become.
Up until the development of OxyContin, most doctors knew just how dangerous opioids like Oxycodone could be. And as a result, they tended to prescribe these drugs only when there was no other alternative – especially when it came to patients with chronic pain.
However, a series of studies and essays within the medical community at the time began pushing back on the idea that opioids were a risky treatment option. As CNN notes, papers from Jane Porter and Dr. Hershel Jick as well as a 1983 study from Dr. Russell Portenoy concluded that addiction was a rare outcome of using drugs like Oxycodone to treat pain.
Added to that, medicine as a whole was shifting towards doing a better job of treating pain in general, making it even more vital to find safer, more powerful treatment alternatives.
This perfectly set the stage for the entrance of OxyContin – a new pain reliever that was potent, effective, and marketed as carrying a low risk of addiction. Purdue Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, sponsored numerous studies and educational materials aimed at downplaying the addictiveness of the drug. And consequently, doctors began prescribing it at an ever-growing rate.
It wasn’t until much later that physicians and the public at large realized just how addictive these drugs really were. And while many companies tried to employ abuse deterrents to keep addicts from using prescription opioids illicitly, many users simply shifted their focus to another cheaper, more freely available opioid – heroin.
Drugs like OxyContin helped create a highly addicted population by the spread of misinformation and by over-prescription. And the United States has been suffering the consequences for almost two decades now.
It is without a doubt one of the deadliest and costliest health crises the country has ever seen. And much of the blame rests on just one little pill.
Oxycodone is, of course, a prescription drug. And when it’s used properly, it can be not only 100% legal, but can dramatically improve the quality of life for some. But abusing it or using it improperly is highly illegal.
This powerful medication is a controlled substance – meaning it’s manufacture, possession, or use is regulated by the government due to its potential for abuse. Oxycodone is considered a Schedule II substance, which the DEA defines as:
Drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:
Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), Oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.
Consequently, if someone is caught using, trading, selling, stealing, or lying to a physician in order to obtain more Oxycodone, they may be subject to some pretty substantial legal penalties.
Below are some of the maximum fines and penalties for trafficking, possession, or smuggling of Oxycodone without a valid prescription according to the Congressional Research Service.
Recent Oxycodone abuse statistics indicate that about 11 million people in the U.S. will take at least one dose of this drug in a non-medical way.
Many of these individuals are possibly taking it at a dosage that’s too high for them or that goes against their prescription. Others are using the drug just to get a buzz. And while the intent might be different between each, both cases are considered to be abuse – even if it’s accidental.
And while you should never abuse Oxycodone due to the high risk of overdose and dependency, a full-blown addiction to the drug is one of the worst outcomes.
But what really constitutes abuse when it comes to this powerful prescription pain reliever?
While using other drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth even once is considered to be abuse since they’re illicit, things get a little trickier when it comes to legal drugs like Oxycodone. And sometimes, it’s hard to know what’s considered abuse with prescription drugs.
Essentially, Oxycodone abuse includes any use of the drug that doesn’t follow the prescription. If you’re taking this drug in any way that doesn’t fall under doctor’s orders, then you’re abusing it.
Now, this can include a lot of different things, some of which most people wouldn’t think twice about. So, to clear things up a bit, all of the following include a form of Oxycodone abuse. And that means that the risk of adverse reactions, dependency, and addiction are all higher than if the drug is used correctly.
While abusing Oxycodone is simply a matter of using it in a way it wasn't prescribed, being addicted to it is something different altogether.
Here’s the definition of addiction according to NIDA:
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.
Addiction, then, is about a pattern of compulsive behaviors – not just using Oxycodone improperly. And over time, these behaviors become so physically and psychologically ingrained that you simply can’t control your drug use anymore.
This is in part caused by real observable physical changes that occur in the brain. And while the first decision to abuse drugs like Oxycodone is often a choice, an addict’s brain makes it difficult (if not impossible) to stop using without professional help.
The very first step to getting help for an Oxycodone addiction is first acknowledging that the problem actually exists.
In fact, the link between addiction denial is so strong that the overwhelming majority of addicts don't get help simply because they don't believe they have a problem.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that only 10.8% of the 19.9 million Americans that needed addiction treatment actually got it. And of those that didn’t, a whopping 95.5% didn’t think they had an addiction problem at all!
That’s why it’s so important to know how to spot the warning signs of an Oxycodone addiction before it’s too late. And there are a couple of ways to do that.
First, you can take a short online addiction quiz. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to complete and is a great way to get a solid answer to the question, “are you addicted to Oxycodone?”
You can also take advantage of the numerous self-assessment tools offered by NIDA. These tools are developed from extensive research in the addiction field and are used by professionals around the world. There are also plenty of options available, making it great for people who don’t have a lot of time and those who want to really take a deep dive into their addiction.
You can also use the guidelines set out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-V. If you’ve experienced at least two of the following symptoms (provided by NIDA) in the past 12 months, it’s likely you’re struggling with an Oxycodone problem and should seek help.
Oxycodone can have a serious effect on the body, both in the short and long-term. Some of these side effects can manifest with regular use, but they become more intense when you’re addicted to it.
The short-term side effects include:
Long-term use can also cause a number of undesirable effects as well. These include:
One of the most dangerous effects of continuing to abuse Oxycodone is a heightened risk of overdosing. Whether it’s by combining it with other drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol or by taking more and more of it to get a bigger high, the more you abuse this drug, the more likely you are to overdose.
And when it comes to Oxycodone and opioids in general, overdosing can be especially deadly. That’s why it’s so critical to know exactly how to spot the signs of taking too much of this drug before it’s too late.
According to MedlinePlus, some of the most common signs of Oxycodone abuse include:
If you notice these symptoms in yourself or in someone close to you, it’s vital that you contact emergency services immediately.
While Oxycodone and heroin are both types of opioids, they aren’t necessarily the same.
Heroin, for example, is 100% illegal and doesn’t have any current legitimate uses accepted by the medical community. Oxycodone, on the other hand, is prescribed hundreds of times a day by real physicians trying to treat real conditions.
But just because Oxycodone is a legitimate medication doesn’t mean it can’t be just as deadly as it’s street counterpart. In fact, more than 40% of all opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription drug like Oxycodone according to the CDC. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
However, there is another connection here that most people may not realize. And it’s that prescription opioid abusers have a significantly higher risk of developing a heroin addiction at some point in their lives.
The risk increase isn’t small either. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that “the incidence of heroin initiation was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not.”
Added to that, “A study of young, urban injection drug users interviewed in 2008 and 2009 found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin.”
It’s important to recognize that this is a new trend. More than 80% of heroin users reported that their first opioid was heroin in 1960. On the other hand, 3 out of 4 heroin users in the 2000s reported their first opioid being a prescription drug.
The dangers of Oxycodone abuse, then, aren’t just about long-term health effects. They aren’t just about the risk of overdose. And they aren’t just about getting addicted to this powerful drug.
Instead, getting hooked on Oxycodone is statistically linked to eventually developing an addiction to heroin. And there are few drugs as deadly as that.
Like so many other addictive substances, the absolute best way of getting clean from an Oxycodone addiction is by seeking out professional help from a treatment center. The expertise and cutting-edge treatments offered by these programs will not only make your recovery more successful, they’ll also keep you both safe and comfortable along the way.
And when it comes to treating an addiction to opioids like Oxycodone, professional help is especially needed. That’s because opioids have both an incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal process as well as a sky-high risk of relapse. And relapsing on opioids can be quite deadly.
For most people, treatment can be broken down into two distinct and equally necessary phases: detoxification and rehabilitation. It’s important to recognize that while you may be tempted to stop treatment after detox or to skip it all together and go straight to rehab, each phase has its purpose during your recovery.
And in order to get the absolute most out of your recovery, you simply must go through both.
Over the course of an addiction to Oxycodone, the body goes through a host of physical changes. Specialized cell receptors die off or multiply. Brain chemicals increase and decrease in potency. And overall, your body becomes more accustomed to this drug coursing through its veins.
And in fact, most addicts become physically dependent on their drug of abuse. When this happens, the body actually needs Oxycodone in order to function normally.
When Oxycodone is taken away from a physically dependent system, though, it needs to re-acclimate itself to working without the presence of this drug. And that means reversing or finding new ways to cope with all of the physical changes that have taken place.
This period of adjustment can end up resulting in some incredibly uncomfortable side effects known as withdrawals. And for opioid users, their withdrawals are especially intense. Many Oxycodone addicts actually end up turning back to using simply in order to avoid feeling these excruciating symptoms.
Opioid detoxification, then, is the process of getting users through these symptoms of withdrawal safely and comfortably without relapsing. It allows the body to get used to living without Oxycodone and other opioids. And it also sets the foundation for a more successful rehabilitation.
A professional detox program will usually have two goals in mind: to keep patients comfortable during withdrawal and to keep them safe.
Comfort is a major concern. Not only does a more comfortable experience help make the process less painful for the patient, but it also reduces the likelihood of relapsing as well.
And since relapsing on opioids can end up being deadly, recovering addicts should only use the most successful methods of treating their addiction.
Safety is also a critical issue during detox. While the symptoms of withdrawal for opioids aren’t directly fatal (like they can be with benzodiazepines and alcohol), they can still result in deadly complications without proper medical expertise.
Dehydration, malnutrition, tachycardia, aspiration pneumonia, and even self-harm are all very real and very dangerous threats. Having the proper expertise to deal with these problems directly can end up saving lives.
Accidental overdose during relapse is a very real and very grave concern when it comes to opioid addiction. And it all has to do with how this class of drugs changes an individual’s tolerance.
To explain, opioids tend to increase tolerance particularly quickly. In fact, research has shown that some patients can develop a physical tolerance to the drug within just several hours at high doses – a condition known as tachyphylaxis.
However, tolerance to opioids also tends to drop especially quickly as well. And that can spell trouble for recovering addicts that go back to using the same dosage.
If, for instance, an opioid addict gets clean for several weeks, their tolerance is going to end up dropping substantially during that time. And if they end up relapsing and taking the same dosage that got them high before, it can actually end up causing a fatal overdose for their less tolerant body.
It’s critical, then, that any effort to give up opioids like Oxycodone are both taken seriously and are supplemented with only trusted, evidence-based care that has been proven to help users get clean and stay clean.
Not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms during withdrawal. Some may go through hellish muscle aches and knee-buckling nausea while others may feel worse fatigue and insomnia. It simply depends on the individual.
Having said that, there are a wide variety of symptoms that an Oxycodone addict may end up experiencing during withdrawal.
According to Mental Health Daily, some of the most common withdrawal symptoms from Oxycodone addiction include:
According to MedlinePlus, withdrawal from opioids like Oxycodone usually can be broken down into two stages: acute and post-acute. Each of these stages comes on at different times during the withdrawal process. And on top of that, each also has its own set of symptoms too.
Also, not everyone’s withdrawal is going to be the same. Some people may experience symptoms for several days but feel back to normal in less than a week. Others may end up taking much longer. Once again, it simply just depends on the individual.
In general, though, most Oxycodone withdrawal timelines will take about 7 to 10 days to get through.
Let’s take a look at what to expect during each stage of the process.
Acute Stage – This first stage of withdrawal usually begins within 12 hours of taking the last Oxycodone dosage. However, for some people, Oxycodone can stay in your system for as long as 20 hours. Symptoms usually begin around the same time.
The intensity of symptoms in this stage will usually peak around day 3 of detox. Symptoms include:
Post-Acute Stage – This stage will typically begin after the peak intensity of the acute stage at around day 3. The symptoms during this phase are considered to be a bit milder but don’t be fooled – they can be just as grueling to get through. This is especially true because this phase can last anywhere from 4 to 7 days as well.
Symptoms during the post-acute stage will usually include:
While detoxification is a way of cleansing the body of an addiction, so to speak, rehabilitation is more about cleansing the mind.
And without it, recovery is highly unlikely. In fact, NIDA states that “medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use.”
In order to truly kick an Oxycodone addiction, users have to address the problematic behaviors that led to addiction, not just the physical dependency that developed as a result.
During Oxycodone rehab, patients learn new ways of coping with life’s stresses, how to avoid overpowering cravings and triggers, and essentially how to take back control of their lives.
But not all levels of care are the same. In most cases, rehab boils down to three main categories: inpatient, outpatient, and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).
Inpatient Rehab – An inpatient rehab program is often considered to be the “gold standard” of treatment. Patients are confined to the boundaries of the program campus and typically aren’t allowed to leave without chaperones. This, of course, is meant to limit the risk of exposure to the drug and to help keep them focused on their recovery.
There are some downsides though. First, patients must be willing to take off a hefty amount of time from work, school, or personal obligations. Most inpatient programs last for about 30 days. Inpatient programs also tend to be costlier based on the amenities provided.
Outpatient Rehabilitation – Outpatient rehabilitation is a more flexible alternative to inpatient treatment. Instead of being confined to the campus, patients attend several treatment sessions a week, usually taking place in the evenings. This allows recovering addicts to attend to daily obligations as usual while still getting treatment for their Oxycodone problem.
Outpatient programs are often cheaper than inpatient ones and usually last around 3 months at a time.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) – As the name suggests, an IOP is a treatment program that offers the flexibility of outpatient but with a higher level of care. Patients in these programs will typically attend more evening treatment sessions a week than outpatient programs, and they'll usually end up lasting longer too.
The length of these programs is normally around 3 months, and they'll usually be slightly more expensive than outpatient programs but less than inpatient ones.
During rehabilitation, recovering addicts will go through a number of different therapies, each aimed at getting to a different core issue behind addiction.
One-on-One Counseling – While addiction certainly has a physical component, many addicts end up using drugs as a way to cope with emotional problems or other underlying issues.
Childhood trauma, mood disorders like depression or anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other problems can all contribute to developing an addiction. One-on-one counseling in rehabilitation helps addicts get to the root of their substance use disorders and learn new healthier ways of coping.
Group Talk – Having a strong social network is crucial to a successful recovery. Not only does it help recovering addicts maintain their sobriety by making them more accountable, but it can also provide some much-needed emotional and motivational support.
Group talk sessions can provide this social connection as patients share their stories and hear from others who have gone through a similar situation.
Behavioral Therapies – While counseling and group talk are great for addressing the emotional and social aspects of recovery, behavioral therapies offer patients real-life actionable strategies for coping with cravings and avoiding triggers.
The best programs will offer only evidence-based behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy, and maybe even techniques based on the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous.
Many people are quite surprised or even shocked when they learn that they have become addicted to Oxycodone. This is either because they truly believed that addiction was something that couldn’t happen to them, or because they didn’t realize it was addictive while they were taking it.
Regardless of the reason for your Oxycodone addiction, in light of the terrible side effects this drug can have on your body, it’s so important for you to take the proper steps to get help as soon as possible.
At Northpoint Washington, we understand how it can feel to be surprised about an addiction to a drug like Oxycodone. After all, this was a drug that you were taking to control pain, and now you’re addicted to it, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. As one of the best Oxycodone addiction treatment centers in Washington State, we’ve been able to help a countless number of people to overcome their addictions to Oxycodone.
Our state-of-the-art programs are evidence-based, highly effective, and nationally endorsed by the Joint Commission. We offer individualized treatment plans that are based on your unique needs – no cookie-cutter programs here. And with one of the highest staff-to-patient ratios, we guarantee you’ll get the level of attention you need and deserve.
Addiction to Oxycodone doesn’t have to be permanent. You can recover – and we can help.
Please contact us today.
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