OxyContin®: Addiction as Severe as Heroin

OxyContin, the brand name for oxycodone hydrochloride, is a semisynthetic opioid analgesic. OxyContin is prescribed for chronic or long-lasting pain such as back pain, cancer, or arthritis. OxyContin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) in 1995.

The active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, which is also found in drugs like Percodan and Tylox. However, OxyContin contains 10-160 mg of oxycodone in a timed-release tablet. Painkillers such as Tylox contain 5 mg of oxycodone and often require repeated doses to provide pain relief because they lack the timed-release formulation.

Addiction to OxyContin® is as severe as heroin, as they are both derived from opium.

OxyContin most commonly exists in tablet form. These round pills come in 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, 80 mg and 160 mg dosages. OxyContin also comes in capsule or liquid form.


Legitimate Use of OxyContin®

OxyContin is legitimately prescribed as a timed-release tablet, providing as many as 12 hours of relief from chronic pain. It is often prescribed for cancer patients or those with chronic, long-lasting back pain, with a goal of decreasing pain and improving function. Generally, pain sufferers need to take the pill only twice a day, whereas a dosage of another medication would require more frequent use to control the pain.

Abuse of OxyContin®
OxyContin abuse has increased dramatically in recent years. On the street, OxyContin is also referred to as oxy, O.C., OxyCotton, Oxy 80 (for the 80 mg dose), and killer.

OxyContin abusers may crush the tablet and ingest or snort it – or they may dilute it in water and inject it. Crushing or diluting the tablet disarms the timed-release action of the medication and causes a quick, powerful high. This practice can lead to overdose on the active ingredient in OxyContin, oxycodone, releasing too much of the medication into the bloodstream too quickly.

When an OxyContin abuser bypasses the time-release structure, they experience a rush. Abusers have compared this feeling to the euphoria of heroin. In fact, in some areas, abuse of OxyContin is more prevalent than the use of heroin.

OxyContin is highly addictive. An OxyContin abuser can easily become obsessed with this pleasurable rush and develop a physical craving. Addiction to OxyContin manifests through chronic use and increasing tolerance so a user needs more and more of it to feel the same effects.

OxyContin and other opioids like heroin block pain messengers to the brain and central nervous system. They increase dopamine in the brain, which causes pleasure and euphoria. As the body seeks a balance, compensating for the increased dopamine and pleasurable feelings, tolerance develops. That’s why the body soon needs more and more OxyContin to get the same feelings.

OxyContin addiction can creep up on someone until acquiring the drug occupies the abuser’s mind full time, affecting friends, family, career, finances and the law.

Short-term Effects of OxyContin® Abuse
Respiratory depression is the most serious risk associated with OxyContin. OxyContin should not be combined with other substances that slow down breathing, including alcohol, antihistamines (cold or allergy medication), barbiturates, or benzodiazepines.

Other common side effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Weakness

Toxic overdose and/or death can occur when the tablet is broken, chewed, or crushed. People who abuse the drug by removing the timed-release coating can experience effects for up to 5 hours

Long-term Effects of OxyContin® Abuse
Chronic abuse of OxyContin leads to increased tolerance, so higher doses must be taken to receive the initial high. OxyContin will be come physically addictive over time, causing withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not present. Addiction to OxyContin can be as powerful as that of heroin.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps
  • Involuntary leg movements
How OxyContin® Differs from Other Painkillers
Two factors set OxyContin abuse apart from other prescription drug abuse:

1. OxyContin is a powerful drug that contains a much larger amount of the active ingredient, oxycodone, than other prescription pain relievers. By crushing the tablet and either ingesting or snorting it, or by injecting diluted OxyContin, abusers feel the powerful effects of the opioid in a short time, rather than over a 12-hour span.
2. Great profits can be made in the illegal sale of OxyContin. A 40 mg pill costs approximately $4 by prescription, yet it may sell for $20-40 on the street, depending on the area of the country.

OxyContin can be comparatively inexpensive if it is legitimately prescribed and covered by insurance. But the National Drug Intelligence Center reports that OxyContin abusers may turn to heroin if their insurance will no longer pay for their OxyContin prescription, because heroin is less expensive than OxyContin purchased illegally.

Crimes Associated with OxyContin® Abuse
Abuse, crime and fatal overdoses have all been linked to OxyContin addiction. Many reports of OxyContin abuse occur in rural, economically depressed areas with labor-intensive industries, such as logging or coal mining. Because of the temptation to make extra income, people may sell their OxyContin prescriptions for profit.

Also, those addicted to OxyContin become so driven to get more of it that they will go to great lengths to get the drug, including robbing pharmacies and writing false prescriptions.

Likelihood of OxyContin® Addiction from Prescription
Most people who take OxyContin as prescribed do not become addicted. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports: “With prolonged use of opiates and opioids, individuals become tolerant…require larger doses, and can become physically dependent on the drugs… Studies indicate that most patients who receive opioids for pain, even those undergoing long-term therapy, do not become addicted to these drugs.”

One NIDA-sponsored study found that “only four out of more than 12,000 patients who were given opioids for acute pain actually became addicted to the drugs…. In a study of 38 chronic pain patients, most of whom received opioids for 4 to 7 years, only 2 patients actually became addicted, and both had a history of drug abuse.”

In short, most individuals who are prescribed OxyContin, or any other opioid, will not become addicted, although they may become dependent on the drug and will need to be withdrawn by a qualified physician. Individuals who are taking the drug as prescribed should continue to do so, as long as they and their physician agree that taking the drug is a medically appropriate way for them to manage pain.

The Difference between OxyContin® Dependence and Addiction
When pain patients take a narcotic analgesic like OxyContin as directed, or to the point where their pain is adequately controlled, it is not abuse. OxyContin abuse occurs when patients take more than is needed for pain control, especially if they take it to get high. Patients who take OxyContin in a manner that grossly differs from a physician’s directions are probably abusing it.

If a patient continues to seek excessive OxyContin after pain management is achieved, the patient may be addicted. Addiction is characterized by the repeated, compulsive use of OxyContin despite adverse social, psychological, and/or physical consequences. OxyContin addiction is often (but not always) accompanied by physical dependence, withdrawal syndrome, and tolerance.

Physical dependence is defined as a physiologic state of adaptation to OxyContin. The absence of this substance produces symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal syndrome is often characterized by overactivity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the drug. Opioids often cause sleepiness, calmness, and constipation, so OxyContin withdrawal often includes insomnia, anxiety, and diarrhea.

Pain patients, however, may sometimes develop a physical dependence during treatment with opioids. This is not an addiction. A gradual decrease of the medication dose over time, as the pain is resolving, brings the former pain patient to a drug-free state without any craving for repeated doses of the drug.

The opioid-addicted patient continues to have a severe and uncontrollable craving that almost always leads to eventual relapse in the absence of adequate treatment. It is this uncontrollable craving that differentiates the OxyContin addicted patient from the former pain patient.

Theoretically, an opioid abuser might develop a physical dependence but obtain treatment in the first few months of abuse, before becoming addicted. In this case, supervised OxyContin withdrawal followed by a few months of abstinence-oriented treatment might be sufficient for the nonaddicted patient who abuses opioids. If, however, this patient subsequently relapses to opioid abuse, then that would support a diagnosis of opioid addiction. After several relapses to OxyContin abuse, it becomes clear that a patient will require long-term treatment for OxyContin addiction.

Drug Treatment for OxyContin®
Transitions Recovery drug treatment center offers hope for those suffering from addiction to OxyContin.

Our professional drug treatment center staff is experienced in helping youth and people of all ages recover from drug and alcohol abuse. We provide a compassionate, supportive environment in our North Miami Beach, Florida, drug treatment center.

Admissions can be accepted 7 days a week. Trained addiction professionals conduct individual assessments that address each individual’s treatment needs. You’ll find our OxyContin drug treatment programs offer access to a continuum of care that provides the intensity of therapy appropriate throughout each stage of recovery, from extended residential care to lifetime aftercare services. The individual program incorporates leading forms of therapy that have proven effective in addressing underlying causes of OxyContin abuse, dual diagnosis, and issues with family, employers, school and the legal system.

We work with patients individually as well as in group sessions and a Family Program, after OxyContin detoxification. Emphasis on recovery from OxyContin addiction and maintained sobriety helps prepare the patient for gradual re-entry into society.

OxyContin treatment does not need to be voluntary. Often, a family member, employer, or the court system can be the motivating factor for an individual receiving drug treatment for OxyContin.

If you think that you or a loved one may be addicted to OxyContin, please contact us right away. We’re here to help. Call us at 1 (800) 298-1783 or request more information.