Oxycodone Addiction and Abuse

The increase in prescription drug use from pain medications has created and the concurrent rise in oxycodone addiction. Since the conception of the current opioid crisis, the death toll has reached more than 400,000 people.

More About Oxycodone

What is this common ingredient in narcotic analgesic pain reliever, and how did it come to play such a part in the current public health emergency?

What is Oxycodone?

This prescription opiate is a semi-synthetic narcotic analgesic found in a number of pain medications. The full name of the drug is oxycodone hydrochloride (oxycodone HCI). Ingredients of oxycodone are hydroxy, epoxy, methoxy, methylmorphinan, and hydrochloride combined in a formulation that’s meant to be chemically similar to morphine, which is a natural opiate. Oxycodone is usually compacted into tablets that are 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 milligrams, except when it’s manufactured for extended or fast release. A dosage for oxycodone can be taken by mouth, crushed and snorted, or dissolved in water and injected.

oxycodone pills spilling on to table

Two of the best-known brand names for oxycodone are OxyContin and Percocet. OxyContin is an extended-relief medication meant to provide long-term relief for chronic pain conditions like arthritis and cancer. Percocet is a common pain killer that uses acetaminophen as a secondary ingredient to manage mild to moderate pain caused by minor surgeries and temporary conditions. Another brand name for oxycodone is Roxicodone, which is a rapid-release formula. This one is usually given right after surgery to subdue intense pain and provide a feeling of calm and well-being.

What’s the Difference Between Oxycodone and Hydrocodone?

Many people wonder if there’s a difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone. They’re similar in most ways, but with a few key differences. The drugs are both opioid-based pain relievers, and both are classified as Schedule II drugs. This means that they have medicinal benefits, but there’s a high risk of abuse.

The ingredients of oxycodone and hydrocodone are nearly identical. The main difference is in their additives, their uses, and in how they’re prescribed. Oxycodone can be prescribed alone to treat severe pain or combined with acetaminophen to treat more moderate afflictions. Hydrocodone is most often prescribed under the brand names Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. It can be formulated as the main active ingredient or combined with ibuprofen to treat pain after minor surgery or an injury. Oxycodone also used to create expectorants and decongestants.

Although both drugs provide similar opiate highs, they’re also abused for different reasons. Mainly, the oxycodone high is thought to be of better quality among those who use it recreationally. Hydrocodone is cheaper and more easily available.

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How is Oxycodone Abused?

No one starts out wanted to become addicted to drugs. The jump from use to dependence or addiction is surprisingly short, and it can happen quickly, even if taking a doctor-prescribed dosage for oxycodone. Maybe it begins with taking more of the medication than recommended. This is often a result of building a tolerance to the drug, which means that the regular dose no longer has the same effects. With recreational users who enjoy the relaxation and euphoric effects, it might start with taking some at a party once in a while. Others may just take it as a pick-me-up when they’re having a bad day.

The sense of well-being is addictive and sought after.

Tolerance can quickly lead to dependence on the drug. Oxycodone abusers may start to rely on the drug more and more to make them feel better. Soon, use is taking over their life. They may begin to feel guilty or ashamed of their substance abuse and try to hide it. However, the brain becomes dependent on the artificial stimulation to keep feeling good. Soon, the drug is needed just to stop the withdrawal symptoms that plague them when they try to quit.

Someone is considered addicted when they prioritize finding and using the drug despite negative consequences or physical harm. This may lead to financial troubles, falling behind at work or school due to drug use, and it may even affect relationships. If the misuse continues, health problems and brain dysfunction will follow. The risk of death by overdose is very real, even when the drug is abused occasionally.

The Opioid Crisis and Oxycodone Abuse

A major factor in the opioid epidemic is the problem of oxycodone addiction. Although other more powerful and dangerous drugs like fentanyl and heroin have taken the spotlight, the problem began with new formulations of oxycodone.

The crisis didn’t reach epidemic proportions right away. In 1995, drug manufacturers began looking for a way to treat severe pain with less risk of addiction. After much experimentation, it was felt that creating an extended-release tablet reduced the risk of addiction by slowing the absorption of the drug into the system and keeping patients within a steady range of effectiveness with fewer dosages.

This turned into a marketing strategy where drug makers would encourage doctors to prioritize prescribing drugs like OxyContin over milder opiates with a standard-release formula. An increase in prescriptions coincided with a spike in overdoses and deaths, which brought the attention of a brewing problem to the FDA. In 2003, they sent a letter to the manufacturer of OxyContin warning of the risks of abuse.

One factor that contributed to overdoses was the habit of snorting oxycodone for the high. Because the formulation was intended to release the dosage over a 12-hour period, crushing the pills and snorting them released the entire dosage almost immediately. When the crisis became apparent more than 100,000 deaths later, doctors were finally discouraged from prescribing the drug. This made it more difficult to obtain legally, so people who were addicted turned to easy, cheap street narcotics like heroin and fentanyl.

In 2010, the manufacturer tried to atone for the misrepresentation about the effects and risks of their drugs and rebrand their image. They discontinued the original formula of OxyContin and released a new abuse-deterrent formulation (ABF). This one causes extreme nasal discomfort when the drug is crushed and snorted. Attempting to extract the narcotic from the drug chemically creates a viscous fluid that’s unusable.

This may have taken OxyContin largely out of the way, but prescriptions containing oxycodone are still a high abuse risk.

Getting Help for Oxycodone Addiction

Addiction occurs when changes in the brain occur from using the drug, leading to dependency. Dependence can create cravings for the drug, which can become overwhelming. This leads to a cycle of abuse that can ruin people’s lives or end in death. The government and rehabilitation community have increased efforts to help those with substance use disorders overcome their addictions with increased funding for new programs.

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