OxyContin, the brand name for the drug oxycodone, is a potent synthetic opiate painkiller that is commonly prescribed for individuals who are struggling with moderate-to-severe pain. OxyContin is a lifeline for individuals who are struggling with chronic pain that occurs with some types of cancer, bone pain, heart attack, and severe burns. The time-release formulation provides hours upon hours of continuous pain relief for individuals in unremitting pain. Oxycodone, a Schedule II narcotic, is available only through a prescription from a physician for pain management. Unfortunately, a significant amount of Oxy is diverted and sold on the street.
Similar to heroin, oxycodone produces – along with pain management – a euphoric high caused by stimulation of the reward center of the brain. Oxycodone elevates levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is considered the pleasure chemical of the brain. On the street, OxyContin is known as “Oxy,” “OC,” “OxyCotton,” “Hillbilly Heroin,” and “Kickers,” and is often used if heroin or morphine is not available.
Individuals who abuse “hillbilly heroin,” usually do so in one of three manners. They will crush the pill into a fine powder before snorting it, they will chew it, or they will crush the tablet and dissolve the powder into water before IV injection. These methods were once able to defeat the extended-release coating on the pills. These methods can drastically increase the risk for overdose on OC. As of September 2013, Oxy was reformulated to make crushing the tablets a challenge to discourage the abuse of this potent narcotic.
Many individuals who abuse Oxy also abuse other substances. Some will opt to combine OC with other downers such as benzodiazepines or alcohol to further the high. This combination can be particularly deadly as all downers lead to respiratory depression, and the combination can cause death. Some individuals use Oxy with stimulants such as amphetamines, cocaine, and meth in order to subdue the unpleasant side effects of stimulant abuse. This combination can lead to consequences such as heart attack and stroke.
OxyContin is a wonderful medication if used in the right way for the right period of time. However, if an individual becomes hooked on OxyContin, a hard road of tolerance, addiction, and rehab lies ahead.
It’s estimated that 9% of all adults in the United States have or will abuse opioid narcotics such as oxycodone. The US Department of Justice discovered that over 13 million individuals in the US used oxycodone for recreational purposes. It’s clear that OxyContin abuse and addiction is a growing problem in the United States.
Many addictions exist with a co-occurring mental illness. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Other substance abuse
Researchers have been unable to prove a single cause for the development of addiction. It’s generally assumed that addiction is the result of a number of factors working together to create an addiction potential. These causes may include:
Genetic: It has been long known that individuals who have a family member who struggles with addiction are at greater risk for developing an addiction themselves.
Brain Chemistry: It’s been postulated that certain individuals may be born with a defect in the pleasure center of the brain and decreased levels of dopamine. These individuals may attempt to correct the defect by using opioid narcotics in order to feel pleasure.
Environmental: Those who grow up in a home where addiction is present may learn at an early age that substance abuse is the appropriate way to handle negative emotions and cope with life stressors. This increases the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction later in life.
Psychological: Many individuals struggle with underdiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses for many years. The symptoms of these mental illnesses may feel insurmountable, so the individual may attempt to self-medicate with substances such as OxyContin.
The symptoms of OxyContin addiction will vary tremendously among individuals. Symptoms will depend upon the length of addiction, the frequency of use, and amount of oxycodone used. Symptoms common to Oxy abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Lying to others about amount used
- Hiding use of Oxy from others
- Borrowing or stealing pills from loved ones
- “Doctor shopping” or visiting many doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Forging prescriptions
- Consistently “losing” prescriptions
- Hiding OxyContin in various places around the house
- Track marks on arms and legs
- Financial problems
- Borrowing or stealing money from friends and family
- Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
- Strained interpersonal relationships
- “Nodding out”
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pupillary constriction
- Respiratory depression
- Dry mouth
- Physical tolerance
- Psychological tolerance
- Worsening emotional health
- Increase in mental illness symptoms
The effects of oxycodone addiction will impact nearly every aspect of an addict’s life leaving virtually nothing unscathed. Common effects of long-term oxycodone use include:
- Loss of interpersonal relationships
- Child and domestic abuse
- Job loss
- Liver damage
- Breathing irregularity
- Respiratory failure
- Myocardial infarction
- Unintentional overdose
Withdrawing from OxyContin is extremely unpleasant and should be done in under the supervision of a trained rehab staff with medical monitoring to reduce the severity of symptoms. Symptoms of Oxy withdrawal include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bone and muscle pain
- Panic attacks
- Sweating and chills
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to OxyContin, it is crucial to seek OxyContin abuse treatment as soon as possible.