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OxyContin: Uses, Side Effects, Overdose, and Treatment

OxyContin is a prescription opioid medication used to manage moderate to severe pain.1 OxyContin is the controlled-extended-release oral formulation of oxycodone hydrochloride.1

The following article will discuss the OxyContin addiction, effects of use and misuse, withdrawal symptoms, overdose, and how to find treatment programs for OxyContin addiction.

What is OxyContin?

OxyContin is the brand name for the narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride.1, 2 It is prescribed for moderate to severe pain that requires “daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment” when other medications are ineffective.1

As a Schedule II drug, OxyContin has a high potential for misuse and can lead to tolerance and physiological dependence, which may contribute to the development of an OxyContin addiction.3, 4

Oxycodone that is not marketed as a combined product is known as OxyContin, often in various dosages of extended-release tablets.5 When oxycodone is combined with aspirin it’s known as Percodan, and with acetaminophen, it’s known as Roxicet.5

Oxycontin misuse can occur when a person:3

  • Takes more than the recommended dosage.
  • Takes the medication in a way other than prescribed, for example crushing the tablets and snorting, or dissolving it in water and injecting it for more immediate relief.
  • Takes someone else’s medication or uses it to get high.

What’s the Difference Between OxyContin and Oxycodone?

The primary difference between OxyContin and oxycodone is that the former is the extended-release, and the latter is the immediate release form of the drug.1 Both have a high potential for physical and psychological dependence.

Both oxycodone and OxyContin can cause respiratory depression or hypoxia, a condition where not enough oxygen reaches the brain.6 This can be especially dangerous in elderly populations or people with compromised respiratory function.6

How Addictive is OxyContin?

OxyContin has a high potential for misuse and addiction, like many other Schedule II drugs.1, 4 Opioids can make people feel extremely relaxed and euphoric, which is one reason people use them for non-medical reasons.3

Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other organs in the body, blocking pain signals and releasing a flood of dopamine throughout the body.3 Such an intense release of dopamine can reinforce the action of taking OxyContin or potentially lead to OxyContin addiction.3, 7

Signs of OxyContin Addiction

Opioid addiction, or an opioid use disorder (the clinical term for opioid addiction), is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder that is characterized by compulsive, drug-seeking behaviors despite continued, negative consequences in a person’s life.7

Only a medical professional or clinician can diagnose an opioid use disorder (OUD); however, knowing the signs of OUD may be helpful in choosing when to seek help. If you’ve experienced 2 or more of the following criteria for an OUD over the past 12 months, you may consider getting help:8, 9

  • Opioids are taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down on opioid use.
  • A great deal of time is spent obtaining, using, or recovering from opioids.
  • Cravings, or a strong desire, to use opioids.
  • Recurrent opioid use results in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued opioid use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use.
  • Recurrent opioid use in situations where it is physically hazardous.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused by or intensified by opioids.
  • Tolerance, which is the need for higher doses of opioids to achieve effects or markedly diminished effects with continued use of the same dose of opioids.
  • Experiences withdrawal symptoms when they reduce or stop using opioids.

Effects of OxyContin

Common positive and negative short-term effects of opioid use—including OxyContin effects—may include:3, 10

  • Euphoria.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Hypoxia.
  • Vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.

Long-term effects of OxyContin may include an increased risk of overdose or addiction.10 Other potentially dangerous effects may include:1

  • Potentially life-threatening respiratory depression.
  • Severe hypotension.
  • Adrenal insufficiency.
  • Seizures.

Certain populations are particularly at risk of complications from chronic opioid use. Older adults are at an increased risk of opioid misuse because of potential drug interactions from taking multiple medications.3 In addition, older adults often have a slowed metabolism, which affects their body’s ability to break down the drugs.3

Pregnant women who take opioids may pass on a physical dependence to their unborn child, resulting in the baby experiencing withdrawal symptoms once they are born.3

OxyContin Withdrawal

Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.11

While opioid withdrawal isn’t typically life-threatening, it can be very uncomfortable.3, 10 Signs of opioid withdrawal may include:10, 11

  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Muscle and bone pain.
  • Chills, “goose bumps,” and hypothermia.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate).

Mixing OxyContin and Alcohol or Other Drugs

Polysubstance use is when a person takes 2 or more drugs together or within a short period of time.12 This can be intentional or unintentional. For example, intentional polysubstance use occurs when someone knowingly ingests multiple drugs, perhaps to see how they interact or to counteract the effects of one drug with another.12

Unintentional polysubstance use occurs when a person takes a drug that has been mixed or cut with other drugs without their knowledge, as can be the case with illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin being cut with fentanyl.12

When combined with other central nervous system depressants such as Xanax and/or alcohol, the effects can be life-threatening.1 As a result, people using OxyContin and alcohol or other depressants may experience sedation, respiratory depression, coma, or even death.1

OxyContin Overdose

Opioid overdose is a serious issue. From 1999 to 2020, more than 263,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in the United States alone, a number that increased more than 5 times during that time frame.13 Opioid overdose occurs when the drug overwhelms the brain, interrupting the body’s natural drive to breathe.14

There are warning signs to look for if you suspect someone may be experiencing an opioid overdose. Common signs of opioid overdose may include:14

  • Small, constricted pupils.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin.

Anyone who uses opioids can experience an overdose but there are certain risk factors to be aware of. These may include:14

  • Combining opioids with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Taking high doses of opioids daily.
  • Taking more opioids than prescribed.
  • Taking illicit opioids, like heroin, that may contain unknown, harmful additives.
  • Health conditions such as sleep apnea or poor liver or kidney function.
  • Being over the age of 65.

Find Rehab Centers Near Me

If you or someone you know is ready to stop using opioids and gain control of your life, we’re here to help. American Addiction Centers (AAC) has compassionate admissions navigators available to guide you through the process of finding treatment or rehab centers near you. Call to learn more about addiction treatment and quickly check your insurance coverage so you can receive the valuable help you need.

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