OxyContin addiction swept the United States in the early 2000’s, when thousands of people discovered that crushing these extended-release painkillers, and snorting them, delivered a massive amount of the active ingredient, oxycodone. OxyContin is a narcotic painkiller that was originally formulated to be an extended release drug, providing small amounts of oxycodone over a 12-hour period for around-the-clock pain management. However, when users discovered how to abuse the drug, a new epidemic of addiction plagued the nation, sending thousands to emergency rooms, addiction treatment, and claiming hundreds of lives from a fatal overdose. Although the makers of OxyContin have recently reformulated the pills to make them abuse-deterrent, OxyContin addiction continues to be a tremendous problem and health threat.
Effects of OxyContin Addiction
Because OxyContin is a narcotic painkiller, it has the same effects as heroin and other painkillers on those who use it. Many people are prescribed OxyContin for chronic pain management, and those who abuse the drug can become addicted quickly, leading to large unmanageability and destruction in life.
OxyContin addiction occurs much like an addiction to any other drug. When an individual takes OxyContin, he or she experiences a rush of euphoria that is caused by an excessive dopamine release in the brain. This dopamine stimulates the reward center, which is why users experience the euphoria. If an individual continues to take OxyContin, the brain begins to adjust to the presence of the drug, and tolerance builds. As this happens, more and more OxyContin becomes necessary to achieve the desired effects.
OxyContin addiction, like any other addiction, becomes the center of life to such a point that getting and using the drug is the top priority and motivation in everything an addict does. When an individual becomes addicted to OxyContin, he or she becomes trapped in a vicious cycle of using to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and then using more to get high. As tolerance continues to grow, both of the reasons for using OxyContin become more drastic and dire.
- With increased tolerance, the amount, dosage, and frequency of use also increase to achieve the same effects.
- With higher and more frequent dosages, the onset of withdrawal symptoms begins in increasingly less time in between doses.
These two shifts can quickly get an addict to the point of which he or she is using OxyContin several times a day. Considering the time and effort it takes to obtain the drug, prepare it for abuse, and get high, this process happening several times in one day often results in an addict doing nothing else with his/her time.
OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
Once OxyContin addiction develops, addicts will do anything to maintain their addiction, and avoid withdrawal symptoms. Although OxyContin withdrawal is not life threatening, it is extremely painful and difficult to tolerate without medical assistance and supervision. Most OxyContin addicts who attempt to stop using on their own, and without the aid of a detox facility and rehab, find themselves using again to find relief from the withdrawal symptoms (referred to as dope sick). Some of the most common symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal Pain
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Increased anxiety
- High fever
- Cold sweats
- Intense cravings
In addition to these symptoms, which are often severe, addicts also experience an initial onset of withdrawal symptoms, which consist of autonomic nervous system responses like frequent yawning, sneezing, and runny nose. Many users have likened many of the physical OxyContin withdrawal to severe flu.
When OxyContin addicts begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, they will do whatever it takes to get more OxyContin or any other opiate or opioid to avoid the full onset of these symptoms.
Once they have their fix to avoid being sick, the next step is to get high so they can feel even better. OxyContin addicts may initially continue to use to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but it is the high that they crave. A high from OxyContin has the same effects as one from heroin or any other opioid painkiller. Some of the effects of OxyContin include:
- Extreme euphoria
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Weak muscles
- Droopy eyelids
- Periods of awake and sleep (nodding off)
- Decreased appetite
- Shallow breathing
- Reduced heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Feelings of well-being (analgesia)
The most dangerous effects of OxyContin on an addict are those that depress breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. When OxyContin or any opioid or opiate is taken in excess, overdose is caused by respiratory depression, or failure, which often leads to death. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 14,800 people died from painkiller overdose in 2008. This number exceeds the overdose deaths from heroin and cocaine, combined in that year.
Additional effects of OxyContin addiction are most evident in the behaviors and consequences surrounding the addict. Because OxyContin can monopolize the life of an addict, he or she seems to become a different person to loved ones disregarding that which was once important.
OxyContin Addiction Signs
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable things and activities
- Significant and unintentional weight loss
- Change in personal appearance and friends and associates
- Discovery of paraphernalia like needles, spoons, aluminum foil, excessive lighters, straws, and baggies in personal space (i.e. bedroom, vehicle, office desk, etc.)
- Stealing from friends and family members to finance OxyContin addiction
OxyContin Addiction Consequences
- Financial problems resulting from failure to fulfill obligations and spending excessive amounts of money on OxyContin
- Troubled or broken relationships as a result of OxyContin abuse
- Legal trouble resulting from DUI, possession, prescription fraud, theft and other OxyContin addiction related charges
- Health problems from complications of OxyContin abuse and overdose
Willingness to isolate from loved ones to continue OxyContin addiction
OxyContin Addiction Before it Was Reformulated
Before the reformulation of OxyContin in October 2010, the pills were crushable and easily dissolved in water, making it simple for addicts to snort or inject all of the contained oxycodone in one massive hit. With this rush of oxycodone, OxyContin was the closest prescription drug to heroin. OxyContin addiction was causing destruction in every corner of the country; that resulted in consequences unlike the nation had ever seen. Once addicted, individuals would go to extreme lengths to obtain more OxyContin, and this action alone was the source of unprecedented destruction.
- Street dealers and gangs capitalized on the OxyContin boom and neighborhoods that had not previously seen gang activity were suddenly flooded with it
- Pharmacies experienced a massive increase in both internal and external robbery
- Emergency rooms were flooded with OxyContin overdoses and complications from OxyContin abuse
- Populations that had never been associated with drugs or addiction were suddenly overwhelmed with OxyContin abuse
- Pill mills exploded on the scene and started capitalizing on the demand for OxyContin, and doctors and physicians handed out prescriptions for the drug in exchange for massive amounts of money
The effects of the OxyContin epidemic were widespread, and another unfortunate effect of it was the transition of many people from injecting OxyContin to injecting heroin for a more intense high. Several OxyContin addicts who may have never thought they would ever use a needle to shoot up, found themselves doing just that to get their fix. When the OxyContin was no longer strong or intense enough, many addicts try heroin to get the most of their high.
OxyContin Addiction After the Reformulation
There is good and bad news associated with the reformulation of OxyContin. The good news is that the new pills are abuse deterrent, so they cannot be crushed and snorted, and they turn into a gel that cannot be injected when a user tries to dissolve them. This is good news because it has drastically reduced the occurrence of abuse and diversion of OxyContin. Widespread reports show a massive decline in OxyContin abuse, ranging from 20%-73% since the reformulation. However, this does not mean that the new formulation of OxyContin cannot be misused. Addicts have tried numerous methods to get through the protective coatings, from simply chewing the pills to soaking them in Coca-Cola. There are no confirmed reports of what does and does not work for abuse purposes.
The bad news about the reformulation of OxyContin is that it did not seem to reduce the number of opiate addicts. In other words, individuals who had been abusing OxyContin have not stopped abusing drugs, just OxyContin specifically. The vast majority of people who suffered from OxyContin addiction only switched to something else, namely heroin. Because heroin is cheaper, easier to get, and an arguably better high, OxyContin addicts have not found much difficulty in switching to heroin. This has been particularly easy for those who were already injecting OxyContin. Additionally, when an OxyContin addict is in withdrawal, and in need of a quick fix, if he or she cannot get what is wanted, he/she will take whatever is available, and heroin is becoming much more available. Dealers are commuting to the suburbs and upper-income neighborhoods to provide the replacement heroin for the thousands of OxyContin addicts who don’t have their drug of choice anymore.
Unfortunately, the benefits of the OxyContin reformulation have done little to decrease the occurrences of opioid addiction, as the overwhelming majority of OxyContin addict have only replaced the drug with another painkiller, or switched to heroin.
Currently, while the pharmacies do not seem to be experiencing as many robberies, and many pill mills have been shut down, some new problems have emerged.
- The gangs and street level dealers are still infiltrating the suburban and upper-income neighborhoods with heroin instead of OxyContin.
- Emergency rooms are now being flooded with overdoses from heroin and other painkillers (often in conjunction with other drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol.
- Individuals who may not have been aware of a loved one’s addiction to OxyContin are devastated to see him or her using heroin.
OxyContin addiction in the early 2000’s sparked a nationwide epidemic of rural and young people getting hooked on the medical equivalent to heroin, and the reformulation has done little more than transition this affected population to other painkillers or heroin. This has effectively increased the number of addicts in the United States, and now addiction treatment is more important than ever.
If you or a loved one is addicted to OxyContin, please call us now. One of our trained counselors is available to speak with you about your situation. We will assist you in finding a safe and comfortable medical detox facility and the addiction treatment program that is most effective, based on needs, preferences, and belief system. Don’t let OxyContin addiction ruin your life. Several different treatment options can be individually tailored to each for maximum health and relapse prevention. Help is available, and it is only one phone call away. Please call now, and get the help that you or your addicted loved one needs.