Oxycodone addiction is among of the fastest-growing problems in the United States today. The substance is a major factor in the opioid crisis, accounting for nearly 75% of all prescription drug abuse in America. The drug is responsible for a large portion of the 20,000+ deaths attributed to prescription drug overdoses that occur each year.
But, isn’t it just a pain reliever? Isn’t it supposed to help people (not make their lives worse)? Why is it so addictive? What kinds of treatment are available to people who are addicted to it?
In this article, we’ll attempt to answer all of those questions and more. We’ll share a little bit of history on the drug, talk about some important (and frightening) statistics and discuss detox and rehab options for addicts.
Essentially, this is a chemical that was invented to treat pain. It’s often prescribed to people who suffer from debilitatingly painful conditions like cancer and leukemia. It’s also given to many people after they undergo surgery. The drug temporarily eases their symptoms and helps them cope with the side effects of an otherwise uncomfortable situation.
Yes, it does belong to the opioid family. Opioids are synthetic drugs (created in a laboratory that mimic the effects of opiates (natural substances, like opium, that come from the ground). These drugs provide relief because, when we smoke or ingest them, they slow down the part of our brain that is receptive to pain.
Oxycodone is a chemical, not a product. You can’t actually buy a bag of it on the street. It’s a tiny little molecule that only pharmacists and scientists have access to. It’s actually just an ingredient that’s used in other drugs.
If you were to go to a drug dealer and ask for it, they wouldn’t give you the chemical itself. They’d give you a product that contains it. OxyContin is one popular product that contains it. Percocet, Percodan, and Endocet are also common drugs that contain it. Each of these products has different effects and time-release schedules, but they all provide temporary pain relief.
You probably won’t hear the term “oxycodone” being thrown around on the street. It’s much more common for street users to refer to the name of a specific product (OxyContin, Percocet, etc).
You might also hear OxyContin and Percocet referred to by one of these street names:
Before the 1900’s, heroin was the go-to medication for pain relief. It’s hard to imagine, but surgeons actually used to inject opium into their patients in order to relieve some of the pain they experience during the healing process. The problem with this, of course, is that heroin is super addictive. Doctors found that their patients were abusing their heroin prescriptions, developing addictions and eventually overdosing.
In response, scientists attempted to develop a less addictive alternative to heroin. They came up with oxycodone, which quickly replaced heroin as the primary form of pain relief. It was included as the active ingredient in drugs like Percodan, and Percocet. At the time, both doctors and the general public believed these drugs to be less addictive than heroin.
Over time, we’ve learned otherwise. By the early 1960’s, it became clear that the drug carries a high risk of abuse and addiction. Around that time, researchers in California determined that the drug accounted for more than 30% of all addictions in the state. Once it became more apparent that the drug was equally as addictive as heroin, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reclassified it as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
A Schedule II Substance? What’s That?
According to the DEA, Schedule II drugs are those that have a medical purpose but also carry a high potential for abuse. These drugs are considered harmful in that they can cause severe physical and psychological dependence. Because they are so dangerous and addictive, Schedule II drugs like oxycodone carry high penalties in federal court.
Most of us are familiar with the severity of today’s opioid crisis. Whether you’re struggling with addiction yourself or know someone who is, this epidemic seems to be touching all of us.
Even those of us who have dealt with the crisis head-on, however, may not understand exactly how bad the problem is or how big of a role prescription drugs play in it.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s 2016 Opioid Addiction Facts & Figures sheet presents some startling statistics about the role of prescription drugs in the epidemic. As these statistics show, heroin is not the only drug that’s ruining lives.
Pain relief medication is a necessity in the lives of many people. Those who suffer struggle with any type of debilitating disease often depend on prescription drugs to get out of bed in the morning. However, all prescription medications can be abused and it doesn’t take long for someone to become chemically dependent on their pain meds.
In most cases, oxycodone addiction begins with a prescription. An individual gets surgery on their knee or hurts themselves at work and the doctor hands them a small prescription for the drug. If the patient uses this prescription responsibly, the drug will help them to cope with the pain as they heal.
If they do not use it responsibly, however, they run the risk of developing an abusive habit.
When you consume opiates, your brain is flooded with a chemical called dopamine. This is a chemical that makes us feel happy and temporarily decreases our ability to feel pain. We can get dopamine in other ways (exercising, eating, laughing) but not nearly as much as the amount opiates generate. This is why pain relievers are so helpful for people who struggle with illness or injuries.
The problem is that it doesn’t take long for the human brain to become accustomed to the things we feed it. When your brain gets used to having a large supply of dopamine in it, it begins to trigger cravings for the substance that produces that supply. These cravings get increasingly more intense as you continue to feed them. Continuously satisfying those cravings will eventually lead to an addiction.
Oftentimes, we aren’t aware when we’re abusing oxycodone, especially if it was prescribed to us. After all, the doctor gave them to us, right? What’s wrong with taking an extra pill here and there?
Well, technically, yes. Doctors do prescribe medication to help us get through some pretty uncomfortable situations. However, they trust that we’ll use the substance as directed.
Taking too much: This is an easy one to overlook. Doctors prescribe drugs in a certain quantity because that is the safest and most effective amount for us to take. Prescription drug abuse often starts with the patient taking more than they were recommended in order to feel heightened effects.
Altering its form: This is one step up from simply using too much. Some abusers crush their pills up and snort them in order to feel the drug’s effects quicker. In extreme cases, drug abusers will “cook” the crushed powder in order to inject it directly into their bloodstream.
“Doctor shopping”: As the opioid crisis has worsened, the government has developed stricter regulations around OxyContin prescriptions. As a result, abusers and addicts may not always be able to obtain as large of a prescription as they need to feed their habit. In turn, many of these individuals resort to “doctor shopping”, or visiting multiple doctors, in order to get their fix.
Taking it in risky situations: Prescription opioid abusers will often risk their own safety to continue using their substance of choice. If you find yourself operating heavy machinery at work or driving a car while under the influence of pain meds, you may have a problem on your hands.
Abusing this drug can have some serious consequences particularly if your habit evolves into a full-fledged addiction.
Respiratory issues: OxyContin and other opioids cause the central nervous system to slow down. This is where all of our pain receptors are located, which is partially why we feel less pain when they’re in our system. The central nervous system, however, is responsible for triggering our basic survival functions like breathing and blinking. When you have opiates in your system, your breathing rate can slow down to an unsafe level. If you use these drugs long enough, they can have long-lasting effects on your respiratory system.
Inability to stay awake: The act of “nodding out” is often associated with heroin addicts, but it’s applicable to prescription opioid users, too. If you’re not familiar, nodding out is when an addict is so high that they’re unable to stay awake or hold their head up. The name comes from the motion they make as they slowly fall asleep, leaning forward while gravity takes over. It may come as a surprise, but nodding out can actually be dangerous. If the user’s heart rate or respiratory rate drops too much while they’re nodding out, they can slip into a coma or lose consciousness.
Nausea: Synthetic opioids are toxins. The human body hasn’t exactly evolved to process them. Even those that are prescribed to us by a doctor can cause us to get a bit queasy. Basically, our brains are equipped with something called the “chemoreceptor trigger zone” (CTZ) that prompts us to throw up whenever something toxic enters into our body. Our CTZ doesn’t like opioids, so it will often cause us to vomit when we take them. Over time, the body of an addict will usually adjust to the drug and they’ll stop throwing up. However, those who continue vomiting on a regular basis are at risk of flushing out too many of the nutrients that the body requires to function.
Severe Constipation: It may seem strange, but Oxys have been known to cause dangerous cases of constipation. In some cases, this is attributed to the poor diet that many drug addicts have. The majority of the time, though, it is due to the fact that opioids disrupt the digestive process. As the body works harder to process the abundance of opiates in the system, it focuses less on digesting food. As a result, food can get backed in the user’s digestive system. This can cause long-term health consequences if it is left untreated.
Overdose: The most severe risk of an oxycodone addiction is overdosing. Overdoses occur when you take so much that your brain stops sending signals to your heart. If that occurs, your heart can stop beating, your blood can stop flowing and your lungs can stop working entirely. If an individual overdoses but does not get treatment within a quick enough timeframe, they can face life-altering health consequences or even die. Those who abuse the drug by taking large quantities, snorting it or using it intravenously are at great risk of overdosing.
In addition to physical health problems and the risk of overdose, oxycodone addicts will find that their habit causes major problems for them. These problems may include:
Financial trouble: Opioids aren’t cheap. Even if you’re getting them from a doctor (or multiple doctors), those co-pays are going to add up. At some point, your doctor will stop supplying the increased dosages necessary to maintain an addiction, forcing you to obtain them by other means. Keeping up an oxy addiction can get quite expensive over time.
Legal problems: OxyContin and Percocet, as well as other similar drugs, are Schedule II substances. Messing around with these drugs, therefore, can get you a pretty serious fine on top of potential jail time. The federal sentencing guidelines state that anyone caught in possession of Oxy one time can fact up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. All subsequent offenses will result in an increased punishment.
Deteriorating relationships: When we are addicted to a drug, it becomes the most important thing in our life. Oftentimes, we start to forget just how important personal relationships are. The drugs are the most important thing and little else matters. In turn, people who suffer from addiction find that they are unable to maintain relationships with their parents, children, siblings, and friends because they’re too focused on using.
Loss of other interests: Again, little else matters when you’re addicted to opiates. It’s rare to find an addict who is able to keep up with their passions and continue to feed their drug cravings at the same time. In most cases, addicts will neglect their career, schoolwork and any other activities they used to care about because they care more about the experience of getting high.
Loss of focus: If you’ve ever suffered from addiction, you know that the mind of an addict is a scary thing. We’re unable to concentrate on anything except finding our next fix. Even when we have it in our possession, we’re constantly fixated on when we’re going to use it next. The ability to live in the present goes completely out the window.
Transition to heroin: This is a key sign of oxycodone addiction. If you’re thinking about using heroin for the first time, it’s probably because your tolerance for your meds has gotten so high that they no longer cut it. This is a common trajectory in the life of an opioid addict. One study shows that 94% of all heroin addicts began using it because it was cheaper and stronger than their prescription medications.
An inability to quit: This part is the worst—chemical dependency. Even when you want to quit, you can’t. The cravings get worse. The hangovers get worse. Life, in general, just seems to get worse…and yet you can’t shake the habit. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re in the grips of an addiction and it’s time to reach out for help.
It can be tough to recognize addictive behavior in yourself, particularly when we’re talking about prescription drugs. If you’re wondering whether or not your oxycodone habit is a problem, you may want to take one of our quizzes. We can provide some clarification and offer some advice on the next steps to take.
Am I Addicted to Drugs?
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Is My Family Member Addicted?
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Prescription Drug Addiction Assessment
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Opiate Addiction Assessment
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Has your habit gotten so bad that you can’t function without the drug in your system? Do you find yourself unable to get out of bed without reaching out for that orange bottle? It could be time to start your recovery and seek some treatment.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources available to opioid addicts. Treatment options are everywhere. From detox and rehab to 12-step meetings and sober houses, there are a variety of programs available to help addicts get clean.
This is the nasty part. You may have heard about it. In order to become a sober person and start living a drug-free life, though, you need to flush all of those excess chemicals out of your system. Welcome to detox.
Detoxification, or detox, is the name of the process where you expel the remaining chemicals out of your system. This is technically the first step toward getting clean. Essentially, you stop using the drug and let nature do its work.
We know that these don’t sound like the most pleasant experiences in the world. However, they all result from your body working to flush the Oxy and its byproducts out of your system. Once detox is over, you’ll be able to focus on the rest of the recovery process.
We don’t recommend it. Although detoxing at home is definitely possible, the majority of addicts who attempt to do so don’t make it through the first few days of withdrawal.
Remember, detoxing can be kind of painful. Going through withdrawals isn’t an easy thing to do. Therefore, it’s going to be much easier to give up and relapse if you’re sitting on your couch with your hand on the phone, waiting to call your drug dealer for another fix.
In a detox program for OxyContin or other drugs, though, you’ll have no access to the substances. Relapsing won’t be an option as long as you remain in the facility. If you’re truly committed to the recovery process, therefore, you’ll want to make sure that you detox in a safe, drug-free environment.
The average oxycodone addict will take around 7 days to detox. Some withdrawal symptoms (such as anxiety and insomnia) may last for several weeks as the addict adjusts to living without the drug in their system.
Typically, withdrawals will start during the first two days after the addict stops using. The most painful symptoms will appear shortly afterward and last for four or five days before peaking.
Oxycodone addiction is a two-headed monster. There is the physical side—that pesky chemical dependency that keeps you hooked on the drug—and the psychological side—those emotions you feel that trigger you to keep using.
In order to overcome your addiction and avoid a future relapse, you’ll want to address the psychological roots of your addiction. For example, you may have depression or anxiety that drive your addiction. Therapy, counseling and group support meetings can all help you to understand why you are prone to drug abuse and how you can manage your addictive tendencies in the future.
Professional rehab programs are staffed with top-notch doctors, therapists and addiction specialists, trained in helping addicts find the path toward recovery. Rehab comes in several different forms, each catered to the needs of a different type of addict.
Inpatient rehab: Many people prefer to spend the earliest days of recovery living in a professional treatment facility. If that sounds like something that would work for you, then inpatient rehab is your best option.
In an inpatient rehab program, you’ll spend several weeks living on campus at the treatment center while attending therapy sessions and meeting other addicts. Each day is filled with a full schedule of individual counseling, group support, and medical checkups. You’ll get to know the staff very well as they share their experiences in overcoming addiction (most of them have struggled with the same things as you) and you’ll meet other addicts with whom you’ll offer mutual support.
Intensive outpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab doesn’t work for everyone’s schedule. After all, many addicts just don’t have the time to leave their life for a few weeks to attend rehab. For those who have school, work or family that needs to be attended to, intensive outpatient rehab is a great option.
In an intensive outpatient rehab program (IOP), you’ll report to the treatment facility on a daily basis to meet with therapists, check in with your doctors and attend group therapy sessions. You’ll get all of the benefits of inpatient treatment without having to live there while in attendance. Once you’ve completed your schedule for the day, you’ll be permitted to leave so that you can take care of your off-campus responsibilities.
Just like detox, rehab is something you can attempt to do on your own if you really want to. However, we highly advise against it. If you truly want to overcome your oxycodone addiction, we suggest that you consider a professional treatment program.
Professional rehab is helpful because provides you with a drug-free space where you can focus on recovery. All of the stressors and triggers of everyday life are removed entirely, allowing you to center yourself and remind yourself why you’re committed to recovery.
In order to reap all of the benefits that rehab has to offer, you’d need to do schedule meetings with a therapist, attend group support sessions and meet with your doctor on a regular basis. While you may want to (and probably should) do these things after you’ve finished your rehab program, a formal treatment plan helps you to get in the habit of going through the recovery process. Without a bit of structure and guidance to help get the ball rolling, many addicts fail to truly commit to sobriety.
Recovery is a lifelong process. Once those opioids have carved out a spot in your brain, they’re going to affect you for a long time. Even those addicts who’ve been clean for years find themselves itching to use every now and then. Because of this, many addicts find that they need continued support after they’ve finished detox and rehab.
Some find that sober living homes offer the support necessary to stay clean after rehab. In a sober home, you’ll live with other newly-recovered addicts who are all working to live a clean life. Residents of these homes often attend meetings together and help each other through the somewhat difficult early days of sobriety.
Narcotics Anonymous is a valuable (and free!) resource for anyone who has struggled with opioid addiction. This organization holds meetings every single day in almost every town in America. At NA meetings, narcotics addicts gather for a few hours to discuss their experiences, share stories and provide one another with support. These meetings are held in schools, town halls, churches and other easily accessible locations.
If you want to find an NA meeting in your area, check out their website.
If you’re currently struggling with an oxycodone addiction, don’t lose hope. There are plenty of people out there who want to help you fight it.
Here at Northpoint Washington, for example, we’ve spent years providing treatment to addicts just like you. We’ve been thrilled to see hundreds of people overcome severe drug habits and go on to live happy, healthy lives.
If you’d like to discuss your current habits with one of our specialists or get some recommendations on treatment options, we’re here for you. Give us a call today. We can’t wait to help you kick your addiction.
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.