OxyContin is a narcotic pain reliever that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 1995.
Its active ingredient is oxycodone, which is a derivative of opium. Doctors typically prescribe OxyContin to treat moderate to severe pain around the clock because of its controlled-release properties. Each tablet contains a significant amount of oxycodone, so patients in chronic pain do not have to take it as frequently as they might have to take other medications.
Unfortunately, not everyone takes OxyContin as directed by a doctor. It is incredibly addictive, and even people taking it for legitimate reasons can develop a dependence on it and eventually an addiction to it.
According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, more than 182,000 emergency room visits in 2010 were related to oxycodone abuse. Abusing OxyContin and other drugs that contain oxycodone is dangerous, and users run the risk of overdosing every time they use. There are ways to treat an addiction to OxyContin though, and many clients who enter recovery go on to lead healthy, successful lives.
Who Abuses OxyContin?
People of all ages abuse OxyContin. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, individuals bypass the controlled-release feature by chewing the tablets or crushing them and then dissolving the powder in water for an injection or just snorting it. In the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that there were 436,000 nonmedical users of OxyContin who were 12 or older.
Though it is a prescription drug, individuals can obtain OxyContin fairly easily through illicit channels. In a 2009 study originally published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that 78 percent of subjects who were admitted to a treatment program and had used OxyContin had not had a prescription for it.
OxyContin abuse is a particular problem among high school students because it is so easily accessible, and users crave it for the initial rush it provides. In its 2014 survey of teen drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 3.3 percent of 12th graders used OxyContin within the past year. NPR reports that after marijuana, prescription drugs are the most commonly used drugs among teenagers in the US.
How an Addiction to OxyContin Develops
There is no single cause of addiction, and every individual develops an addiction differently; however, there are a few factors that can increase someone’s addiction potential. These factors include genetics, brain chemistry, psychological makeup, and environment.
Some people develop an addiction to OxyContin after using it for an extended period of time for legitimate reasons. Other people obtain it illegally to get high and do so frequently enough that they eventually develop an addiction. The body builds up a tolerance to oxycodone with continued use, which means individuals have to increase their dosage to feel the same effects. When the brain adapts to the changes induced by oxycodone, the body develops a dependence on it, which means it needs the drug to maintain its new cognitive state. Psychological dependence can also occur. Individuals who have psychological dependence are convinced that they need the drug to continue to function normally.
Both tolerance and dependence can lead to addiction, which is characterized by a compulsive need to take OxyContin regardless of the consequences. If a loved one had developed an addiction to OxyContin, the first step to recovery is acknowledging the problem and checking into a treatment facility.
Signs of a Painkiller Addiction
Individuals who are addicted to OxyContin will likely do whatever they can to hide their addiction from friends and family; however, as the addiction gets stronger, it will become harder to hide. According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, the signs of an addiction to prescription painkillers like OxyContin include:
- Acting reclusive
- Using the drugs after a prescription has ended
- Spending excessive time and money getting more of the drug
- Neglecting family and work responsibilities
- Experiencing increased sensitivity to stimuli or hallucinating
- Acting defensive or lashing out
- Blacking out or forgetting events that have taken place recently
Consequences of Abusing OxyContin
The longer an individual abuses OxyContin, the more they risk damaging their health and ruining their relationships with friends, family, and even coworkers. Some of the short-term side effects of abusing oxycodone are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irregular heart rate
- Stomach pain
- Chest pain
- Hives, rash, or itchiness
- Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, lower legs, throat, face, lips, or tongue
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
Individuals can experience these effects every time they use. They may also experience side effects that develop over time. Some of the long-term effects of OxyContin abuse are:
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Severe constipation
- Persistent vomiting
- Muscle spasms
- Slowed respiration
- Septic contamination and widespread inflammation in those who inject it
In addition to experiencing physical side effects from abusing OxyContin, individuals may also experience severe negative consequences that affect other aspects of their lives. For example, addiction can result in poor performance at work that leads to unemployment, and it often places significant stress on relationships. If a loved one appears to be suffering from an addiction to OxyContin, it’s important to remember that their behaviors are out of their control. Addiction is a debilitating disease, but like many diseases, there are effective ways to treat it.
Treating OxyContin addiction is similar to treating other addictions, and it always starts with undergoing a medical detox program. During medical detox, clients are monitored 24/7 as they go through withdrawal. The symptoms of opiate withdrawal are rarely life-threatening; however, individuals run the risk of relapsing before they have completed the withdrawal process if they try to quit OxyContin on their own. In medical detox, the staff helps clients avoid relapse by monitoring them and providing medication that minimizes cravings, like methadone. According to the US National Library of Medicine, methadone can both ease withdrawal symptoms and work as a long-term maintenance medication for people who are still struggling with dependence following the withdrawal period.
Medical detox is an important part of addiction treatment, but it’s only the first step. Following medical detox, many people find success by entering a residential treatment program. In a residential program, clients still have access to medical care 24/7, but instead of focusing on treating the physical symptoms of withdrawal, they have moved on to addressing the psychological symptoms that remain. In a residential treatment program, clients can focus solely on their recovery without having to face the stress of everyday life.
For individuals who have obligations and other commitments that they cannot postpone, there is intensive outpatient treatment.
In intensive outpatient treatment, clients still attend various types of therapy, but they live at home and have more freedom than those who are enrolled in residential treatment.
Devising an aftercare plan that involves support groups and other means of encouragement is another important part of treatment. In order to come up with such a plan, clients must determine what their triggers to use again will most likely be once they leave treatment. With the help of addiction experts, they can then come up with ways to handle those triggers should they come across them in the outside world. The ultimate goal of an aftercare plan is to prevent relapse from occurring, and with the right support structure in place, it is entirely possible for clients to maintain their sobriety through treatment and beyond.