Medically reviewed by:
John Nguyen, B.S.
Understanding Oxycodone Abuse
Oxycodone is a particularly noteworthy opioid drug that is often combined with other medications to treat pain. While the drug can be an effective painkiller, it can also be dangerous, as oxycodone abuse can lead to addiction. In fact, many states in the U.S. are currently experiencing an epidemic concerning opioids like oxycodone, and their governments are as a result filing lawsuits and taking other legal actions against producers and suppliers.
Oxycodone is a narcotic painkiller that is very commonly used in healthcare. As one of the most highly prescribed opioid drugs on the market, oxycodone in its many forms has been widely abused. The drug can be taken safely to treat moderate to severe pain, but doctors must always ensure that their patients are taking the medication properly. Those who begin abusing oxycodone without a proper prescription, or without following the dosage, put themselves at serious risk of a number of different dangerous outcomes, chief among them being addiction. Unfortunately, many people still abuse oxycodone despite this fact due to its ability to produce significant euphoria when taken in large doses.
Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse
Some of the most common side effects of oxycodone use, even in regularly prescribed doses, are drowsiness, confusion, and relaxation. This is why doctors suggest that patients do not take the drug then try to drive or participate in other activities requiring concentration and quick reflexes.
When someone is actually abusing oxycodone, these symptoms will be more intense, and others will also occur be more likely to occur. Other common signs and symptoms of oxycodone abuse include:
- Allergic reaction
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Lowered blood pressure and increased heartbeat
- Decreased feeling of pain
- Release of tension
- Mood swings (a person can feel euphoric at first and then depressed or irritable)
It is common for individuals who abuse this particular drug to experience a number of clear signs and symptoms, so if you believe someone you know is abusing oxycodone, these are clear-cut indications.
Dangers of Oxycodone Abuse
Unfortunately, a large number of individuals, all from different age groups and backgrounds, abuse oxycodone and others similar drugs. It is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, particularly due to this high level of abuse that it has been associated with in recent years.
Oxycodone abuse can cause dangerous side effects, including death. Here are some of the most concerning ones related to oxycodone abuse:
Increased cerebrospinal fluid pressure
Many narcotics can elevate the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid, leading to severe physical issues for the user in certain cases.
Oxycodone can potentially cause seizures in a small population of users, but the likelihood of this occurring becomes much higher if someone is abusing the drug consistently and in large doses.
Respiratory/cardiac depression and overdose
Using drugs like oxycodone slows down the functions of the body, including one’s breathing and heartbeat. When a person takes higher doses than prescribed, however, respiratory and cardiac rate can both become so slow that the individual passes out and is unable to receive enough oxygen. This overdose can be deadly.
Dependence and withdrawal
Though the withdrawal syndrome associated with opioids isn’t usually life threatening, it can be incredibly uncomfortable with symptoms akin to those of the flu. They include:
- Muscle, bone, and joint pain
- Runny nose
An individual can also become dependent on opioids without abusing them, but these painful withdrawal symptoms can often lead to abuse.
If a person experiences severe respiratory and/or cardiac depression (usually in an overdose situation), they may be able to be taken to the hospital and have the effects reversed in time to save their life. However, it is common for individuals in this situation to also sustain severe and permanent brain damage, as the brain is often unable to receive enough oxygen leading to debilitating outcomes.
Those who abuse oxycodone – and other drugs of the opioid type – are putting themselves especially in danger of experiencing these consequences. Those particularly in danger are the individuals who crush and snort oxycodone tablets, as while the medication is meant to be slowly released into the person’s system over time, this method of abuse compounds the effect by causing it to be absorbed all at once.
Oxycodone Overdose Symptoms
Oxycodone overdose was the leading cause of drug related death in the United States in 2011. Since oxycodone is so commonly prescribed, healthcare professionals should be aware of the signs and symptoms of oxycodone overdose. The clinical features of overdose include low blood pressure, pinpoint pupils, slow heart rate, respiratory depression, somnolence, and muscle flaccidity. Additionally, oxycodone overdose has been shown to have higher rates of spinal cord infarction and ischemic brain injury due to prolonged hypoxia.
If overdose is suspected, an opioid antagonist such as naloxone should be administered. However, an opioid antagonist should not be administered if respiratory depression or circulatory collapse is absent. If you suspect someone has overdosed on oxycodone, call 911 immediately and follow the operator’s instructions.
Opioid use disorder, the DSM-5 term for oxycodone dependence, abuse, and addiction, rose to a peak in recent years, as there is still a high level of misuse of this particular medication.
When a person starts abusing a drug like oxycodone frequently, the way their brain works will chemically change, causing them to no longer have the ability to stop using the drug, even if they want to. Their abuse becomes compulsive, and they will do whatever they must to obtain more of the drug. This is why crime, financial issues, and risky behavior are so high among addicts.
Identifying Oxycodone Addiction
Addiction is a chief concern for those who abuse oxycodone. Some questions that can be asked to understand whether one has become addicted include:
- Is oxycodone something one abuses every day?
- Is getting through a stressful day, falling asleep at night, or living life without the drug more difficult?
- In order to obtain more of the drug, has one every done anything dangerous, illegal, or problematic?
- Have loved ones expressed that one’s substance abuse is an issue?
- Has considering switching to a stronger opioid in order to combat tolerance ever been considered?
- Have severe withdrawal effects occurred when one wasn’t able to obtain more oxycodone?
- Have I lost interest in things that are important to me?
- Has my performance in work or school suffered due to my substance abuse?
- Is it hard to stop or cut back without assistance?
Especially if one has answered yes to the last question, it is time to seek treatment. Those who become addicted to oxycodone put themselves in danger when they try to quit on their own, due to the strong difficulty of doing so and the high likelihood of relapse. Seeking help is the safest way to recover.
Oxycodone Addiction Treatment
Oxycodone addiction is usually treated with a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. Two of the most popular medications used to treat this disorder include methadone and buprenorphine, which can
- Minimize withdrawal symptoms
- Reduce cravings for opioids
- Block the opioid receptors in the brain so it will be harder for a person to relapse
- Overall maintain the individual so they can live their lives without constantly experiencing the severe consequences of oxycodone abuse
Behavioral therapies are also an essential part of the recovery process. These treatment modalities can help teach patients how to avoid relapse, recognize their triggers, and cope with cravings. They will also allow an individual to consider why they started abusing drugs in the first place in order to better understand their recovery needs, and they can further simultaneously treat both addiction and at-times co-occurring mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.