OxyContin may have taken a backseat to other prescription opioids. But it still continues to devastate the lives of addicts and their families...
OxyContin has a driving force in America's opioid crisis. A prescription painkiller, the drug is responsible for a large portion of the 33,000 opioid overdoses that occur each year.
Over the past decade, government regulations have aimed to limit access to the drug. Its manufacturers have also changed their Oxycodone-based products to make them harder to abuse. Unfortunately, these efforts have not taken the drug off the streets. People are still able to find it, abuse it and overdose on it.
So the crisis continues...
Addicts need to understand the risks of opioid addiction. Their families should be aware, too. If we educate more people about the dangers of this horrible disease, we may be able to save lives.
For that reason, we've compiled this guide to OxyContin addiction. We discuss the signs of addiction, describe the withdrawal symptoms and outline a plan of action for getting clean.
It is a prescription painkiller. This specific product is a brand name medication. It is made by Purdue Pharmaceuticals, a drug manufacturer. The drug is offered in eight different doses ranging from 10 mg to 160 mg.
It is made almost entirely from Oxycodone, an opioid chemical. This chemical is the active ingredient. It's the part of the drug that eases pain and causes feelings of euphoria.
Not all Oxycodone products are OxyContin. The chemical is used in many brand name and generic products.
Doctors have prescribed the drug for nearly 20 years. At certain points, it was the most widely abused prescription med.
Most Oxycodone products are immediate-release. This means active chemical is released into the bloodstream rapidly. Their effects last for a relatively short period of time. Many of these products contain only a small amount of opioids in them.
OxyContin, on the other hand, is an extended-release drug. This means that it lasts for several hours. The active chemical is released into the bloodstream over a long period. Its effects can take up to 12 hours to peak.
This drug was developed for long-term pain relief. As a result, it contains more Oxycodone than other products. Because this chemical is what causes users to feel high, it is particularly popular with drug addicts.
The excessive amount of opioids in the product what forces prescription users into OxyContin addiction.
When taken responsibly, the drug is used to relieve chronic pain. Because it's the only-extended release Oxycodone product, it provides round-the-clock treatment. It differs from other prescription opioids in this way. For the most part, other drugs are intended for as-needed use.
Trusted doctors are quick to point out that it should not be used for fast-acting pain relief. There are other drugs for this scenarios. This type of behavior may be a slippery slope toward OxyContin addiction.
Only those who suffer from debilitating pain should use it. Cancer patients, for example, are prescribed it. People who undergo intense surgery also benefit from it. It is not intended to treat minor injuries.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the drug has many nicknames. Some popular ones include:
*These terms used to describe both OxyContin and Oxycodone. Because street drugs are trafficked illegally, it is hard for addicts to identify exactly what they're getting.
The drug comes in pill form. The pills are small and round. Each dose is a different color. 10 mg tablets, for example, are white. 80 mg tables, on the other hand, are green. All of the pills are inscribed with a number on one side and "OC" on the other
Click to see images of OxyContin
OxyContin is a Schedule II Controlled Substance. In the words of the DEA, "Substances in this schedule have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological dependence."
Other prescription opioids like Fentanyl, Percocet and Vicodin are in this category. Illegal possession of Schedule II drugs comes with a sentence of up to one year in prison. Charges may also include a $1,000 fine. This punishment is for a first-time offense. Further offenses carry higher penalties.
As an extended-release Oxycodone-based drug, Oxy is kind of in its own league. Yes, it's an opioid. So it is somewhat similar to other prescription opioids. However, it has some traits that set it apart from other drugs.
Here's how it compares to other common medications:
Percocet and Oxy are quite similar. However, Percs are immediate-release. They do, however, contain far more Oxycodone than other similar drugs.
Both Oxies and Percs are highly addictive.
Over the past few years, Fentanyl has made quite a name for itself. There's a growing awareness around just how dangerous this drug is. In 2015 alone, Fentanyl killed more than 20,000 people.
While both drugs are opioids, they're quite different. Unlike OxyContin, Fentanyl is morphine-based.
Tramadol was designed as an alternative to highly-addictive opioids. In recent years, however, that has been proven false.
While the drug is not as deadly as other opioids, it is still dangerous. Studies show that more than 2.6 million Americans use tramadol irresponsibly. This issue may not be as dire as the OxyContin addiction crisis, but it's still scary.
Naproxen is not an opioid. It is, however, used to treat pain. This drug can be purchased without a prescription in many states. It is contained in drugs over-the-counter drugs like Aleve.
Naproxen addiction is a topic of debate. Some believe that it's a growing problem. Others believe that it's hardly addictive. Whatever the case, it's not nearly as big of an issue as Oxy addiction.
The history of Oxy is long and complex. The drug appeared on the market in 1996. Purdue, its manufacturer, claimed it to be a less addictive alternative to other painkillers. Of course, this turned out to be false.
Not only was the claim misleading, but reports show that Purdue put extra effort into marketing the opioid. Even though it was highly addictive, the drug became one of the most popular meds in America.
In the early 2000's, the opioid crisis started to become a problem. As a result, the FDA made efforts to crack down on drug producers. When the prevalence of OxyContin addiction became apparent, the government stepped in. In 2003, they issued Purdue a warning letter about their marketing techniques.
After several lawsuits, the company changed the drug's formula. It's no longer as powerful as it used to be. Around the same time, powerful drugs like showed up. Therefore, we don't see as many addicts gravitate toward Oxy. We can see from statistics, however, that people are still abusing it.
This drug is very addictive. In fact, the CDC found that the risk of chemical dependency increases dramatically every day an addict continues to use.
The agency's recent study looked at the years between 2006 and 2015. They found that even a one-day supply of this drug carries a 6% chance of prolonged use.
A six-day supply carried double the risk. A twelve-day supply carried a quadrupled risk.
With only a week and a half's worth of prescription opioids, therefore, the chance of developing a life-altering addiction jumps to nearly 25%
Prescription drug abuse takes many forms. Oftentimes, opioid abusers fail to recognize that they're abusing drugs until it's too late.
Oxycodone-based products are prescription drugs. But, many people slip into a bad habit by misusing their prescription. They take a few extra pills here and there without considering the consequences of their behavior. Before they know it, they find themselves fighting an OxyContin addiction.
There are a few key behaviors that are considered to be drug abuse. If someone is engaging in these actions, they are misusing their prescription:
Taking more than necessary: Medication is prescribed in specific doses. Doctors prescribed the exact amount that the patient needs. Overusing is a sign that the patient needs higher doses to feel the effects. This means that they have built a tolerance for the drug and should work to wean off it.
Using it recreationally: Opioids are meant to ease pain. No one, under any circumstances, should use them for fun. Using OxyContin recreationally is considered drug abuse.
Mixing it with other drugs: Even if someone is prescribed Oxy, they shouldn't mix it with other drugs. The only exception to this is if a doctor has ordered them to do so. Prescription drug interactions can be deadly. Mixing them with alcohol can be risky, too. Everyone should avoid doing so.
Snorting, injecting, or smoking: Using illicit methods to consume drugs is dangerous. Some OxyContin addicts do this to feel heightened effects. Snorting, injecting and, smoking the drug increase the risk of overdose.
Stealing medication: Opioids aren't cheap. They can be quite expensive, particularly if the addict doesn't have insurance. As a result, drug abusers often resort to stealing meds to feed their cravings.
Buying it illegally: This drug should only be purchased from a pharmacy. However, because it is so addictive, people often resort to buying on the street. This is risky, as street drugs are unregulated. Street opioids are often laced with Fentanyl or other, stronger drugs. This increases the likelihood of an overdose.
Doctor shopping: Drug abusers will only get high for a certain amount of time before their tolerance builds. At a certain point, the doctor will no longer provide them with the high doses their habit requires. In these cases, many people turn to "doctor shopping" to get what they need. This term refers to the illegal practice of seeing multiple doctors and getting multiple prescriptions.
Risking safety to use: Obviously, abusing drugs is unsafe in its own right. But people with severe habits often take additional risks in order to get high. They might drive a car or operate heavy machinery under the influence. They might even go to dangerous places to obtain their fix.
Being unable to stop: OxyContin abuse comes with all kinds of negative side effects. The user's physical health, mental stability, and personal life may suffer. If the addict faces any negative consequences yet finds themselves unable to stop, they have a drug problem on their hands.
Worried that you might be an OxyContin addict? Take one of our free online quizzes to get some clarity.
"The most scathing irony is that what allowed OxyContin to reach so many households and communities was the claim that it wasn't dangerous." - Richard Taite, Psychology Today
Abusing Oxy is dangerous. It can have life-threatening consequences.
The danger comes from the effect that the drug has on the body's central nervous system. Our CNS regulates some of our most important functions. Our lungs, heart, and brain are all impacted by the Oxycodone chemical. If someone takes too much of this drug, they put their life at risk.
In an article published on PsychologyToday.com, Richard Taite discusses the drug's death toll. He explains how the drug was marketed as a safe alternative to other opioids. Of course, it turns out the claims were false. "Sadly, this information has come to light as much as a decade too late for thousands of individuals who have accidentally overdosed from OxyContin," he writes.
In order to prevent further deaths, users must understand the risks.
The Food and Drug Administration states that OxyContin users may experience lung problems and breathing issues. Even those who use it responsibly can feel this side effect. Those who abuse the drug, however, are at a high risk of respiratory failure.
Oxycodone and other opioids target the part of the brain that regulates breathing. They slow our central nervous system down. When that occurs, our lungs stop operating properly. They pump air in and out at a much slower rate.
In certain cases, the drug will cause the lungs to stop completely.
Chronic opioid use places a lot of stress on the heart. Like the lungs, the heart is directly connected to the central nervous system. The CNS regulates how fast the heart beats at any given time. If a user ingests too much Oxycodone, the chemical may cause the user's heart to stop.
Also, if an OxyContin addict goes into withdrawal because they can't get a fix, their heart may speed up too fast. This can cause heart failure, too.
Painkillers are supposed to ease pain symptoms. However, evidence shows that, when abused, they can actually make pain worse. Some addicts are diagnosed with opioid-induced hyperalgesia. This condition is characterized by increased pain without clear worsening of the injury.
This condition is exacerbated by withdrawal symptoms. OxyContin withdrawal symptoms are known to be particularly painful.
As the central nervous system slows down, the digestive process also slows. As a result, the body is unable to expel food fast enough. Many opioid addicts experience severe constipation. Opioid-induced constipation may require medical attention.
If someone uses a drug long enough, their body grows accustomed to having that chemical in it. After a period of time, it may not function properly without the drug. This is known as physical dependence.
When an addict is dependent on a drug, they'll experience severe cravings on a regular basis. They may get anxious, nauseous, or even physically sick if those cravings aren't fed.
The biggest risk of OxyContin abuse is overdosing. As we've explained above, overdoses occur when the drug shuts down the user's body. Whether their lungs stop breathing or their heart stops pumping blood, overdoses can be fatal.
Some people are able to live through overdoses. However, survival requires the user to get immediate treatment. Unfortunately, many overdose victims don't survive.
5% of heroin users began by abusing their painkiller prescription.
We often hear of heroin addicts who begin using the drug after abusing prescription meds. It's an all too common story. Researchers estimate that between 4% and 6% of all current heroin users started with prescription opioids.
Heroin offers two things that other opioids don't. First, it's very cheap. Oxys cost as much as $100 per pill. Heroin, on the other hand, costs as little as 60$ per bag. Insurance companies cover the cost of painkillers for a period of time. But, as the addict needs larger doses they may turn to the streets to get their fix.
Secondly, heroin is far more powerful than Oxy. Even if the addict crushes up their pills to snort, the medication doesn't offer the same high that heroin does. When addicts become aware of the power of heroin, they often seek it out and make the transition.
Thinking about transitioning from Oxy to dope? You could have a serious problem. Give us a call and we'll set you up with the addiction resources you need.
"Once her pills ran out, she turned to buying them on the street...An old friend, a heroin user, suggested that she give his drug a try." - Jessica Ravitz, CNN
Most of us have a certain dope addict image in our mind. They're usually sitting in an alleyway, nodding off with a needle in their arm. This isn't the reality, though. Most addicts live in normal houses. They eat normal food. And they just happen to suffer from addiction.
Jessica Ravitz' article, "Inside the Secret Lives of Functioning Heroin Addicts", published on CNN.com, illuminates this condition. The piece pays special attention to heroin addicts who developed an OxyContin addiction first.
"I've always wanted to see the world,' he says. "I've never been outside of the country because I can't leave. I'm f***ing chained where I'm at.'"
Todd, one of the men profiled in the article, holds down a high-paying job. He spends as much as $600 on drugs. Todd is to the point where he no longer gets high. He simply uses to avoid withdrawals. He lives a double life as an addict and a professional.
"He's explained the bruises on his arm by telling people he has diabetes or an infectious disease," Ravitz writes about the anonymous man. "He once told a pharmacist he was a science teacher in need of syringes for experiments.
Another woman, Lisa, turned to heroin after police cracked down on her source for pills. "I can't find pills, I'm in pain and it's really cheap," she's quoted in the article. "What happened to me is what happens to thousands and thousands of people."
Todd and Lisa's stories should be warning signs to us all. Prescription drug addiction is a slippery slope toward even worse things.
Prescription opioids can have dramatic and terrifying effects on addicts and their families. Here are a few more addiction stories pulled from Bluelight, an online addiction community forum.
"I was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital after one of my overdoses. After being shocked twice, my heart started beating again. I was in a coma for a few days. All of my organs suffered severe damage from lack of oxygen. No one expected me to live. I had a team of doctors fighting to save my life and not a single one of them can explain how I am alive today or how I don't have any kind of damage." - brutus
"All of my friends eventually abandoned me as did the majority of my family. I contracted Hep-C from a dirty syringe and have yet to seek treatment. I have scars on my right arm from constant IV use. I am sure my internal organs have also suffered from shooting pills. It took my confidence. It made me feel like I didn't deserve anything good in life. It filled my life with shame and anger. It helped me drive myself into complete isolation and block off anyone that ever cared about me. It legitimately changes the chemistry in your brain." - MemphisX3
OxyContin and other opioids work by binding to small sites in the brain. These sites are known, appropriately, as opioid receptors.
Opioid receptors are designed to receive signals from other parts of our body. When someone feels pain in their finger, for example, their receptors receive a signal letting them know that their finger hurts. Essentially, this is a threat-detection process that helps humans to avoid danger.
The opioid receptors receive pleasant signals, too. When something good happens, our brain gets a rush of dopamine and serotonin. Those chemicals make us feel good.
But the human brain is not meant to get too much serotonin or dopamine. The opioid receptors actually regulate the amounts of these chemicals that are allowed to enter. The brain simply gets small squirts of these chemicals here and there to remind us when we're doing positive things.
When we take opioids, the drugs actually prevent our opioid receptors from working properly. This allows a huge rush of dopamine to flood our brain.
Unfortunately, the rush of dopamine that opioids provide is unparalleled. No other activity in life provides quite the same rush of pleasure. Petting a dog, eating good food, exercising, or even holding our own baby gives us that rush.
This effect is intensified by the fact that the drugs also kill pain. When the pain signals are unable to reach our brain, we feel even happier.
Of course, this effect only lasts so long. Once it wears off, the addict will start to feel cravings. These are signals from the brain that prompt the addict to use more. Cravings are very hard to reduce. If the addict continually feeds them, they'll become chemically dependent over time.
If you or a loved one uses Oxy, it's important to know the signs of addiction. We've outlined some of them below to help you keep an eye on the habit.
"Addiction" can be a loose term. Depending on who is defining it, the definition may range. Some people believe that it's a failure of willpower. Others recognize it for being the disease that it is.
When we talk about addiction, we use the definition outlined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Edition Five ( DSM-5). This is a manual written by the American Psychiatric Association. It is used by medical professionals to diagnose mental conditions.
In the DSM-5, the APA establishes a clear definition of addiction. They use an eleven-point criterion to diagnose addicts. According to the Manual, addicts will experience at least some of the following symptoms:
In order for a doctor to diagnose someone with substance abuse disorder, they must show at least 3-4 of the symptoms listed above.
Has your prescription pill habit gotten out of hand? Take our Prescription Drug Addiction Quiz to diagnose the severity of your habit.
At a certain point, Oxy addicts won't be able to function without the drug in their system. This can cause all kinds of problems for them. They might ruin relationships, lose their job, or even overdose.
As long as they're still alive, though, they still have a chance.
Quitting OxyContin is never easy. Like most opioids, it creates a severe dependence in the user. This makes sobriety quite difficult. They'll experience withdrawal symptoms, which are painful. The process is tough but it can be overcome.
With a plan of action and professional treatment, however, anyone can kick their habit.
The first step toward sobriety is detoxification. Drug detox is the process in which the addicts get all traces of the drug out of their body. When an addict has opioids in their system, they'll continue to experience strong cravings. The cravings decrease after the drugs are cleared out.
Detoxing from Oxy is not fun. Addicts are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. After the withdrawal process has ended, they will be on the road to a new life.
OxyContin withdrawal symptoms are particularly painful. Because the drug has such powerful effects, the detox process feels powerful, too. The symptoms are both physical and psychological.
An addict in withdrawal is likely to get physically ill. They are also likely to experience strong feelings of anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Some other common withdrawal symptoms include:
Some addicts will feel all of these symptoms. Others will only feel a few. The severity of withdrawal depends on a number of factors. Their age, weight, and nature of their habit will all affect the withdrawal process.
The best way to cope with withdrawal symptoms is to detox in a professional treatment facility. There are doctors at treatment centers who are trained to help addicts through the detox process. These doctors know how to make detox as quick and painless as possible.
There are a few things that doctors do to help the process along. First, they develop a customized detox plan for the addict. Not all opioid addictions are the same. Those who have a severe habit, for example, may need to taper off of the drug. Other people may be able to stop cold turkey. A doctor will ensure that the addict is detoxing in the best possible way.
Secondly, doctors provide medication if necessary. While some addicts can simply stop, others require medicated detox. Those who have severe addictions or co-occurring disorders should seek professional help.
Lastly, they make sure that addicts are hydrated during withdrawal. People in detox get very sick. They vomit. They sweat. They lose large amounts of water. Although it can be painful to drink water while withdrawing, hydration is important. Treatment doctors will ensure that their patients have enough water in their system.
Yes. Home detox is possible. However, it is not recommended. OxyContin withdrawal symptoms can be excruciating. Oftentimes, addicts who detox at home don't make it to the end without relapsing. In fact, between 40% and 60% of addicts who fail to seek professional treatment relapse. If they don't relapse during the detox process itself, they do so within the first few months afterward.
Looking for home detox tips? Check out our guide to safely detoxing at home.
"The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational. Unless they have structured help, they have no hope." - Russell Brand
Detox is only one half of the recovery process. It helps the addict to get physically clean. However, in order to stay sober in the long run, they must also get mentally clean. This is what drug rehab is for.
Drug addiction takes a strong hold on the mind. Addicts get into certain patterns that make it easy for them to stay off drugs. In order to avoid relapsing, they need to develop better habits.
Rehab provides addicts with a systematic approach to sobriety. In rehab, the addict meets regularly with therapists and addiction specialists. These individuals help the addict to identify the roots of their addiction. They also help the addict to pinpoint triggers and to develop tools for managing cravings.
Additionally, addicts spend their time in group support sessions with other drug users. The group takes turns discussing their history, offering advice, and sharing stories. Oftentimes, newly sober addicts feel overwhelmed and alone. Addicts need support to overcome their issue.
There are a few different types of rehab. Each type caters to the needs of different addicts. The two main types are inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment.
Inpatient rehab is a residential treatment program. Addicts live on campus for a few weeks. Usually, they go through withdrawal in the same facility. Once they've done that, they start rehab treatment.
Not everyone wants to live in the facility itself, though. Some addicts prefer to live at home and report to the center regularly. This is particularly the case for people who have an OxyContin addiction. Many of them have families and jobs that they need to take care of.
For these folks, outpatient treatment is a better option. These programs are similar to inpatient except the patient lives off-site. They attend daily meetings and counseling sessions before returning home.
Ultimately, the best type of rehab depends on the needs of the addict.
OxyContin addiction doesn't end when the addict finishes rehab. It takes years to fully recover. The addict will still experience cravings. They'll still face triggers. And they'll still have problems in their lives.
For that reason, rehab aftercare is strongly recommended. This gives addicts the continued support they need to stay sober.
Aftercare takes many forms. Some common ones include:
12-step meetings: Narcotics Anonymous is a free resource for opioid addicts. The organization holds daily meetings in nearly every city. Folks who are addicted to OxyContin, heroin, meth and other drugs gather to offer support to each other.
Sober living homes: Sober homes are houses that help addicts to get back on their feet. Addicts live together in these homes as they work toward living a sober life. Residents are required to pay rent and maintain their sobriety.
Oxycodone is a dangerous chemical. It, along with other opioids, ruins thousands of lives each year. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with addiction, it's important to get help.
We want to help you.
Northpoint Washington is an intensive outpatient treatment center. We're committed to assisting addicts in their battle with addiction. We provide detox and rehab services for addicts and their families. Give us a call today.
Our facilities currently open for services:
Outpatient drug and alcohol rehab and addiction counseling located in Boise, Idaho.
Our National Medical Detox and Inpatient Addiction Facility.
Outpatient drug and alcohol rehab and addiction counseling located in Washington State.