Oxycontin is a brand name for a controlled-release, oral form of oxycodone. It is a an opioid (narcotic) analgesic prescribed for patients experiencing moderate to severe pain around the clock, for an extended period of time, and who cannot be treated with other medications.
As an opioid narcotic, Oxycontin functions by altering how the central nervous system responds to pain signals. When the sustained-release coating is removed from the pills, the narcotic is released quickly, giving the user a rush of euphoria and relaxation, similar to heroin.
Due to its high potential for abuse, Oxycontin must always be taken exactly according to a doctor’s instructions. Taking a larger dose, or taking Oxycontin more frequently or for a longer period of time than prescribed, will lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Understanding Oxycontin Abuse
Oxycontin is a controlled-release form of oxycodone. When taken as directed, the drug is slowly released into the patient’s system over a 12 hour period. When the sustained-release coating is removed, the medication’s effects will be felt within ten minutes, producing a high similar to heroin.
Like heroin and other opioid drugs, Oxycontin attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals. Because opioid receptors are located in the brain’s reward center, this process also triggers the release of dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. This highly-desirable feeling is one of the primary reasons for the widespread abuse of Oxycontin and other opioid drugs.
Another key factor in the illicit use of Oxycontin is how readily available it is to the public, either through prescription or to purchase illegally. Many dealers and users obtain Oxycontin through fraudulent prescriptions or shady pain clinics, and oxycodone is one of the most commonly stolen medications.
Slang terms for Oxycontin include: 80’s, Beans, OC, and Orange Crayons.
Signs and Symptoms of Oxycontin Abuse
The Drug Enforcement Agency lists the following symptoms as possible indicators of Oxycontin use, and/or withdrawal:
- Extreme loss of appetite and weight
- Constricted/pinpoint pupils
- Watery/sunken eyes
- Poor complexion or sickly appearance
- Drowsiness/falling asleep at odd times
- Frequently sick
- Tremors, twitching, excessive scratching
- Appearing intoxicated with no signs of alcohol use
Other possible signs of Oxycontin abuse may include:
- Needing to have a prescription refilled earlier than scheduled
- Seeing multiple doctors/clinics for pain prescriptions
- Changes in mood
- Changes in appearance or hygiene
- Mental clouding
- Isolation from family and friends
- Secretive behavior
- Nervousness and restlessness
- Lack of interest in activities the user previously enjoyed
There is potential for numerous serious side effects when taking Oxycontin. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- changes in heartbeat
- agitation, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- fever, sweating
- fast heartbeat
- severe muscle stiffness or twitching
- loss of coordination
- nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
- weakness, or dizziness
- inability to get or keep an erection
- irregular menstruation
- decreased sexual desire
- chest pain
- hives, itching, rash
- swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- extreme drowsiness
- lightheadedness when changing positions
Dangers of Oxycontin Abuse
Sustained use of Oxycontin will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to experience the same effects. Taking large amounts of Oxycontin will increase the number and severity of side effects, and as well as the risk of serious medical consequences.
Opioid receptors are found in the same areas of the brain that control respiration. High doses of opioids can cause breathing to stop completely, leading to fatality.
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s fact sheet on oxycodone lists the following as possible signs of overdose:
- extreme drowsiness
- muscle weakness
- cold and clammy skin
- pinpoint pupils
- shallow breathing
- slow heart rate
Who Abuses Oxycontin?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to Oxycontin. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “regular use [of opioids]—even as prescribed by a doctor—can produce dependence, and when misused or abused, opioid pain relievers can lead to fatal overdose.”
Some addicts take Oxycontin to combat feelings of anxiety, to self-medicate depression, or to enjoy feelings of euphoria. Some users take the drug due to chronic pain and an unbearable physical dependency that makes them unable to quit the drug on their own.
When used legally, under a doctor’s instructions, Oxycontin can be beneficial, improving a patient’s quality of life during illness, injury, or recovery from surgery. When pain goes untreated, a patient suffers in all areas of life, running the risk of developing mood disorders and suicidal thoughts.
However, prescription opioids such as Oxycontin are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, and patients must be careful to take them only as directed, and for the reasons prescribed. Overuse and abuse of the medication (such as taking it to relax instead of to treat pain) will lead to serious mental and physical consequences.
Taking Oxycontin recreationally, especially in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs, is extremely dangerous and is a clear sign of a substance abuse problem.
Am I Addicted to Oxycontin?
If you fear that you may be addicted to Oxycontin, ask yourself the questions below:
- Do I abuse Oxycontin every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience side effects or withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without Oxycontin?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, and/or do I lie about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I need more and more Oxycontin each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using Oxycontin on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be addicted to Oxycontin and in need of professional substance abuse help.
Oxycontin Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The NIDA explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the cycle of addiction. The treatment specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab are trained in how to manage substance abuse issues and lead addicts safely to recovery.
Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated.
Because withdrawal from Oxycontin can be extremely unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal. A doctor will likely have you taper off of Oxycontin gradually, to minimize withdrawal symptoms, and may prescribe medications to help ease symptoms and more comfortably transition you into sobriety.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.
Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.
Other treatment options include:
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.