OxyContin Abuse and Addiction
OxyContin is a powerful and highly addictive opioid painkiller that can have several dangerous side effects, especially when misused. People who abuse OxyContin may be more likely to develop opioid dependence and addiction, and at increased risk of overdose.
Is OxyContin an Opioid?
Yes. OxyContin is a brand name for oxycodone, a semi-synthetic narcotic widely prescribed for pain. While it is an important medication for certain types of pain management, it is also frequently diverted for nonmedical misuse because of its potent opioid effects.1,2
Street names reportedly include: 1,2
- Hillbilly Heroin.
- Oxy Cotton.
Effects of OxyContin Use
When a person uses OxyContin or similar opioids, they may experience numerous side effects, including:1,3,4
- Slowed breathing.
- Muscle weakness.
- Dry mouth.
- Itchy skin.
- Abdominal pain.
The relaxed, euphoric high that OxyContin can bring about contributes to its abuse potential and addictive nature.1
OxyContin is Schedule II controlled substance, which means that while OxyContin has recognized medical uses for pain management, it is also a drug with a high potential for abuse.1
Because OxyContin is capable of producing a rewarding, heroin-like euphoria, it is a common target for nonmedical misuse.1,5 Even those with no original intention of abusing the drug may ultimately find themselves using it outside of prescribed guidelines. While most people prescribed OxyContin use it correctly, in some cases what begins as prescription use can turn into misuse/abuse.7
You are abusing OxyContin when you:3
- Take more OxyContin than you were prescribed.
- Take it for longer than prescribed.
- Taking OxyContin for the purpose of getting high.
- Use it in ways that the drug was not meant to be used, such as by snorting or injecting it.
- Take OxyContin that is not prescribed to you.
The most recent statistics show that more than 3 million Americans age 12 and older misused oxycodone products in 2019 alone.6 Opioid abuse can have devastating consequences; in the span of 19 years between 1999 and 2018, close to half a million people died from overdoses involving opioids (prescription and illicit).7
Risks of OxyContin Abuse
When a person misuses OxyContin, they face several health risks. A person who abuses OxyContin can suffer from:8
- Severe constipation and bowel obstruction.
- Severe respiratory depression or respiratory arrest.
- Adrenal insufficiency (the adrenal glands produce insufficient amounts of hormones).
- Significantly low blood pressure.
- Decreased seizure threshold in those with seizure disorders.
- Endocrine abnormalities and associated sexual dysfunction and impaired fertility.
- Overdose (see below).
Those who abuse OxyContin are also at risk of becoming dependent on or addicted to opioids.8
Arguably the biggest risk of abusing OxyContin is overdosing and suffering from severe respiratory depression. This can result in hypoxia, a condition where the brain lacks adequate oxygen.3
Hypoxia can lead to:3
- Brain damage.
Opioid Tolerance and Dependence
When a person uses (or misuses) OxyContin, it is not uncommon for them to develop some degree of tolerance to the medication. As their tolerance to OxyContin grows, they will need to take more to feel the effects.1,3Any increase in dose of a medication like OxyContin should only happen under a doctor’s supervision. Someone who uses a medication like OxyContin who increases their dosage on their own may suffer a fatal overdose.3,9 Increasing doses are also associated with increased opioid use disorder (addiction) risk.9
As OxyContin abuse continues, the person may become increasingly opioid-dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut back or quit.
OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
These symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal may include:3
- Bone and muscle pain.
- Strong cravings for opioids.
- Cold flashes.
- Nausea, vomiting.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be intensely uncomfortable. Those who’ve developed a significant physiological dependence on the drug may find themselves unable to quit using opioids despite wanting to do so because they are unable to cope with the withdrawal symptoms, which mimic a terrible flu.3,10
Addiction to OxyContin goes beyond just physical dependence. It involves a loss of control over one’s use. Someone suffering from an OxyContin addiction may begin to compulsively use the drug and continue to do so despite the negative consequences that are associated with their use.10
Signs of Oxycodone Addiction
In addition to tolerance and dependence/withdrawal, some other signs and symptoms of an addiction to OxyContin include:10
- Using more OxyContin than was originally intended.
- Using OxyContin with the knowledge that it makes a physical or emotional problem worse.
- Using OxyContin in risky situations, such as while driving.
- Being unable to fulfill responsibilities at work at home because of OxyContin use.
- Unsuccessfully attempting to stop using or cut back on OxyContin.
- Using OxyContin even as it increases family and other personal conflicts.
Counterfeit Pain Pills: A New Threat
While OxyContin itself is addictive and dangerous, a more recent threat has emerged that has made abusing this drug even more risky: counterfeit pills.
People are buying more pain pills online and in other illicit ways, but often these pain pills are fake and not manufactured in a lab according to pharmaceutical standards. 11 Illegally manufactured OxyContin often contains fentanyl, an opioid drug that up to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin.11,12 Illegally manufactured prescription pills, many of which come from China or Mexico, can look identical to real OxyContin.11
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 27% of illicit tablets seized nationwide in 2019 contained fentanyl. The DEA warns that if a pill of any kind is not obtained legally through a pharmacy, it is likely to be counterfeit and that taking any of these pills is extremely risky.11 Fentanyl can be deadly in extremely small amounts. The DEA states that just 2 mg, the size of 2 grains of salt, can be fatal in most people.13