According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 30 million Americans were reported as having misused oxycodone and oxycodone products such as Oxycontin.
This statistic should come as no surprise considering that currently, doctors prescribe an average of 71 opioid prescriptions per 100 people annually in the United States, which also accounts for the more than 1,000 people per day that are sent to the emergency room as a result of prescription opioid misuse.
In the wake of this epidemic, health care providers are being instructed to limit their prescriptions of opioid painkillers as the DEA attempts to reduce Schedule II opioid pain medications manufactured in the U.S. by 25 percent or more. In the meantime, however, people are still becoming addicted to OxyContin and eventually overdosing in staggering numbers.
Even more troubling is the amount of people who are moving on from OxyContin and other prescription opioids to more potent, dangerous drugs like heroin, claiming that it is cheaper and easier to access than prescription painkillers.
The best way to limit OxyContin’s role as a gateway drug is to prevent OxyContin addiction from developing before it becomes too late to do so.
What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is a prescription painkiller and the brand name for the opioid drug oxycodone. It is a powerful narcotic that is meant to treat severe pain but often abused for recreational purposes. Over the years, oxycodone has been marketed in multiple formulations, including Percocet, Roxicet, OxyFast, and Endocet, but OxyContin, which is manufactured by Purdue Pharma and has oxycodone as the sole ingredient, is easily the most well-known.
When Purdue Pharma first introduced OxyContin in the late 1990s, it was very aggressively marketed as the safe alternative to prescription opioids that had been on the market, possessing a lower potential for abuse and addiction.
However, it quickly became apparent that this was not the case as opioid addiction and overdose rates skyrocketed. In 2007, about 10 years after OxyContin was introduced to the drug market, the federal government charged Purdue Pharma for falsely marketing OxyContin as safe and forced them to pay 600 million dollars in fines. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done at that point, and the opioid epidemic would soon be in full swing.
OxyContin is still available as a prescription medication, though as a Schedule II substance, its use is heavily restricted and it has long been considered a gateway drug to stronger, more dangerous substances.
How Does OxyContin Work?
OxyContin works in the same way as the majority of substances in the opioid family, entering the brain and binding to opioid receptors, activating them, and stimulating opioid production. Opioid receptors are neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending pain signals throughout the central nervous and to and from the brain, as well as regulating how the body responds to both pain and stress.
OxyContin puts these receptors into overdrive, overwhelming the brain and central nervous system, and blocking out pain much more effectively than the brain could do on its own. It works on different key parts of the brain and central nervous system in the following ways:
- The Spinal Cord: The spinal cord is what receives the sensations and then sends them to the brain. OxyContin raises the body’s opioid levels to block the spinal cord for sending and receiving pain signals, numbing the body from feelings of pain, even those from a serious injury.
- The Brainstem: OxyContin put similar blocks on the brainstem, keeping it from receiving any other stray pain signals. It also works on the brainstem to slow down breathing, which is what creates the feelings of drowsiness and sedation.
- The Limbic System: OxyContin’s effects on the limbic system are a bit different but are very much the key to why so many people become dependent on it. The limbic system is frequently referred to as the pleasure center of the brain due to its control over functions such as cognition, emotion, pleasure, motivation, and reward. This is largely regulated by a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. OxyContin stimulates dopamine production in the limbic system to provide an intense rush of euphoria.
It’s this rush that helps rewire pathways in the brain as it learns to associate OxyContin use with excess dopamine, beginning the process of addiction and leading dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
There are currently two versions of OxyContin, one with a time-release that releases the medication in roughly four to six-hour intervals throughout the day to prevent someone from being able to abuse it. Unfortunately, it is fairly easy to bypass this feature by crushing up the pill or dissolving it. The immediate release form of OxyContin is roughly one and a half times stronger than cocaine.
What are the Effects of OxyContin?
In the short-term, the effects of OxyContin produces essentially the same effects as other opioids, including the feelings of drowsiness and numbing of pain that it is meant to provide as well as:
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shallow breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Increased sweating
- Impaired coordination and movement
The long-term effects of chronic OxyContin abuse can have extremely serious consequences when it comes to the user’s health and wellbeing. Some of the effects of OxyContin addiction include:
- Persistent vomiting
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Significantly reduced pain threshold
- Severe constipation
- Panic attacks
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- Impotence and sexual dysfunction
What are the Signs of OxyContin Addiction?
The signs of OcyContin addiction can often be difficult to immediately spot, especially if someone is still developing their dependence on the drug. Still, being able to recognize the behaviors that signal growing addiction to OxyContin can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring that the individual in question is able to receive proper treatment before it is too late.
That being said, there are many signs of OxyContin addiction that will make themselves apparent if you know what to look for. And, as obtaining and using OxyContin becomes the sole focus of someone’s priorities and decisions, there are other behaviors that will stand out that are associated with not only OxyContin addiction but substance use disorders in general as well.
Some of the Signs of OxyContin Addiction Include:
- Increased tolerance to OxyContin
- Using more OxyContin than prescribed or taking doses at incorrect times
- Being unable to stop using OxyContin
- Difficulty in performing daily tasks and functions without OxyContin
- Missing money or valuables used to pay for OxyContin
- “Doctor-shopping” to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Hiding OxyContin use from others
- A significant decline in job or school performance
- Withdrawal symptoms after the effects of OxyContin wear off
- Forging prescriptions for OxyContin
Whether you have seen these signs of codeine addiction in someone you care about or yourself, it is absolutely critical that you seek out medical detoxification services for you or your loved one to flush out the OxyContin and associated toxins to try and prevent as much physical and psychological damage as possible.
What is Involved in OxyContin Addiction Treatment?
When beginning OxyContin addiction treatment, it is crucial that you start with a detox. This should be done under the close supervision of a medical professional at a medical detox center. Like most opioids, OxyContin does not have a life-threatening withdrawal, but it can still be more than a little uncomfortable as well as dangerous if it is not done under the right circumstances.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with OxyContin detox include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can result in medically serious dehydration. There are also symptoms of insomnia, depression, and confusion, which could lead to potential self-harm or worse if someone is not being carefully monitored during their detox.
When someone chooses to detox under the supervision of a medical professional, they can avoid the dangers of these withdrawal symptoms as well as the extremely high risk of relapsing before completing the process of withdrawal and potentially overdosing fatally in an attempt to find relief from the symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal.
A medical detox professional can also ensure a safe detox experience by putting someone on a tapering schedule to slowly wean them off of OxyContin by getting them down to smaller and smaller doses until it is safe for them to stop using altogether. A doctor can also provide medications to decrease as much discomfort caused by the symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal as possible, as well as use it in medical maintenance therapy during their tapering regimen.
Once detoxification is complete, the next step in OxyContin addiction treatment is entering into an addiction recovery treatment program. On its own, all it does is clear the drugs from someone’s system. It does not address the addictive behaviors that led to OxyContin dependence, nor will it be any help in terms of managing addiction or remaining sober in the future.
In order to accomplish those goals, following up with aftercare treatment and a rehabilitation program is essential. Depending on the severity of someone’s OxyContin addiction, they may choose to do this one either an inpatient or outpatient basis, learning to understand the root of their addiction issues and working to gain the necessary tools to prevent them from relapsing and be able to maintain long-term sobriety. Each person’s treatment program will look a bit different based on what is deemed to be most effective for them, but they all will most likely involve at least some of the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Family therapy
- Addiction education workshops
- Relapse prevention planning
- Holistic therapy
How Dangerous is OxyContin?
Opioids, whether they are prescription or otherwise, are incredibly dangerous, and OxyContin is no different. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15,000 people overdosed fatally as a result of prescription opioids in 2015, including OxyContin.
For pregnant women specifically, there is the danger of their babies becoming dependent on OxyContin in utero and being born already in withdrawal. Women on OxyContin should also not breastfeed their baby, as the drug can be passed through breastmilk and cause the baby to experience breathing problems.
As statistics unfortunately show, it is all too easy to overdose on OxyContin. While there are opioid reversal drugs like Narcan and naloxone available to potentially reverse the effects of an overdose, if emergency medical services are not alerted in time, it could either be too late, or there could be severe brain damage as a result of lack of oxygen in the body. This is called hypoxic brain damage, and consists of the following:
- Memory loss
- Loss of coordination
- Inability to concentrate
- Impaired vision or hearing
- Unresponsive, vegetative state
The Symptoms of an OxyContin Overdose Include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Limp muscles
- Very weak pulse
- Uncontrollable vomiting
- Slowed, difficult breathing
- Stomach spasms
- Clammy, cold skin
- Bluish skin and lips
- Respiratory failure
OxyContin Abuse Statistics
- OxyContin abuse is responsible for nearly 183,000 emergency visits annually in the United States.
- Statistically, people who abuse OxyContin are 19 times more likely to use heroin.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, although the United States only account for about five percent of the world population, we consume more than 80 percent of the world’s supply of oxycodone.
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
If you or a loved one is battling with an addiction to OxyContin, getting out from under it can feel next to impossible. And while addiction recovery is never easy, with Maryland House Detox in your corner, you can begin to break free from OxyContin dependence, starting with a professional medical detox.
Start taking the first steps towards a better, brighter, substance-free tomorrow by calling 855-928-0596 now. Our addiction specialists are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you or your loved one get the treatment you need to start your recovery. You can also contact us online for more information.