Oxycontin Addiction and Abuse
For years, researchers have been trying to find a way to help those in moderate to severe pain manage their conditions and improve their quality of life. They thought they’d found the answer with OxyContin. However, this prescription drug has been at the root of a nation-wide epidemic that came to widespread public attention in the early 2000s and still has a hold on many communities. OxyContin abuse has destroyed lives and families, and the risk of addiction with this opioid is high.
What is OxyContin, and does it have clinical value in light of the rising death toll and cost of treating addiction to this powerful drug?
What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is the brand name for a semi-synthetic opiate called oxycodone. This man-made morphine derivative is an active ingredient in several prescription painkillers. When combined with acetaminophen, it’s sold under the brand name Percocet. OxyContin is an extended-release formulation that provides relief for serious pain for up to 12 hours.
How is OxyContin Used?
According to a report issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the US accounts for approximately 81 percent of total OxyContin prescriptions despite being only five percent of the total global population. The drug is used to treat chronic moderate to severe pain, such as that from back injuries, arthritis, and cancer.
The drug is called Oxys on the street, and the wider availability over the last 18 years has flooded the market and made it widely available for diversion and illegal sale. This and the strength of the drug are two factors that have led to the rise in abuse.
OxyContin is not intended for occasional use or for mild pain that will go away in a day or two. It’s recommended for opiate-tolerant patients over the age of 12 who suffer from long-term conditions. Tolerance means that the user is building an immunity to the effects of the drug. They must take more to get the same effects as when they first began a prescription or recreational use. Unfortunately, the lethal amount of oxycodone doesn’t increase with tolerance.
Tolerance and addiction are not the same conditions. But, one can lead to the other, and someone who has a high opiate tolerance is often physically dependent on the drug.
Drug manufacturing researchers believed that creating a strong, time-released formulation would reduce the problem of tolerance that leads to accidental overdose. It should be taken with food to avoid nausea and stomach upset. The typical OxyContin dosage is 20 milligrams, but it can be as high as 40 milligrams. This depends on the age, weight, and physical condition of the patient, and factors like underlying medical conditions, risk of developing an addiction, and other medications.
What Makes OxyContin so Dangerous?
The fact that it is a slow-release formulation may be part of what makes OxyContin so deadly. It was created to provide lasting relief for those who suffer from painful chronic conditions. The longer duration is also the attraction for people who are addicted to the relaxing, euphoric effects of opiates. However, when the tablets are crushed or the powder emptied from the capsules to make the drug easy to snort, most of the extended dosage floods the system immediately instead of over a period of hours.
Longer release also means a longer half-life, so there’s a danger in drinking alcohol or taking other drugs while a large amount of OxyContin is still in the bloodstream. This should also be a consideration when undergoing medically supervised detox. That’s why it’s important to find a program that has a track record of success with OxyContin addiction specifically.
Are you ready to get help?
If you’re ready to take the first step toward finding recovery, contact Stepping Stone Center for Recovery today. Our addiction specialist can answer any questions regarding our program and the treatment options that are available to you.
Signs of OxyContin Misuse
High tolerance is one of the first signs of burgeoning addiction to OxyContin. Because of the slow release of each OxyContin dosage is meant for long-term use to deal with chronic pain, the risk of addiction is high.
Taking medication correctly as prescribed lessens the risk of dependence and/or addiction. If someone is using OxyContin legally, it’s essential for their doctor and those close to them to monitor their use and make sure they’re not taking more than directed. It’s much more difficult to determine if someone is abusing OxyContin when they are taking it illegally or for the high they get.
However, there are signs of misuse to look for that can point to a problem. The sooner abuse is detected, the faster intervention and treatment can begin.
Some signs of OxyContin misuse or addiction are:
- Preoccupation with the medication, such as counting or fretting over remaining pills or time until next dosage or refill
- Taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Hostility when questioned about drug use
- Irritability and mood swings
- Excessive sleepiness
- Dizziness and confusion
- Doctor shopping or forging prescriptions
- Financial problems or criminal activity
OxyContin Abuse Statistics
In 2013, the NIDA funded a study through the organization, Monitoring the Future. They found that 1 out of 30 high school students surveyed had abused OxyContin at least one time. In addition, the number of people who took OxyContin without a prescription increased over that same time period.
In 2017 alone, more than 72,000 people died from drug overdose, a high proportion of which was caused by opiates. That’s more than double the previous rates. Overall, deaths from opioid abuse increased by four times since 2002. The majority of these death were males, but numbers among women are also rising.
Getting Help for OxyContin Addiction
This powerful narcotic analgesic was formulated to help cancer patients and others living with chronic pain, with an eye toward making a non-addictive form of painkiller. Instead, the OxyContin manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, has been blamed by some in the media and in Washington for setting off the opiate epidemic that has so far killed more than 400,000 people since 2002.
In response, the drug company has patented a released a fast-acting wafer form of Buprenorphine that dissolves on the tongue in seconds and is available over-the-counter. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist drug that’s used to treat opiate addictions.
Partial agonists bind to the same receptors in the brain as OxyContin and similar drugs, but it doesn’t create the same euphoric effect. As one of the most promising treatment options for opiate abuse, it offers a lower risk of abuse and milder withdrawal symptoms. It’s used for initial detox in rehabilitation programs and for medical maintenance to prevent relapse after release.
The right dosage of Buprenorphine may:
- Reduce cravings for OxyContin
- Lesson the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms
- Block other opiates and their effects
- Help long-term opiate abusers conquer addiction
Medically assisted treatment (MAT), when used in coordination with cognitive behavior and other therapies after detox, has proven successful in rehabilitating those with substance use disorder and helping them to lead fulfilling drug-free lives. There are a number of public and private OxyContin addiction treatment programs, and the government has poured resources into addressing the problem of opiate misuse.