In 1995, researchers thought they had made a bold strike in the fight against prescription painkiller abuse. Medications such as morphine were commonly abused, as they were provided in convenient dosages that users could simply double or triple in order to get high. Producers of oxycodone wrapped their drugs in a time-release capsule. In so doing, they thought it would be harder for addicts to abuse the pills. After all, they’re not designed to provide a rush of the drug. They’re designed to come on slowly and go away slowly. Sadly, addicts found a way around this time-release safeguard. In fact, it’s this time-release capability that makes oxycodone addiction so very dangerous. Addicts can crush the pills, stripping out the time-release capability, and receive hours of medication, all at the same time. When addicts figured this out, addiction rates began to climb.
Now, oxycodone abuse and addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to an article published in the Journal of Pain, of the zip codes studied, 60 percent of people had abused prescription drugs. The researchers also determined that oxycodone abuse rates had risen the fastest among all of the prescription drugs studied.
Why Oxycodone Addiction Occurs
Oxycodone is classified as an opioid, which means it’s closely related to heroin. The two drugs act in nearly exactly the same way in the body, but oxycodone is created in a laboratory through chemical means while heroin is extracted from a poppy plant using somewhat more natural methods. People may know that heroin is addictive. Oxycodone is similarly addictive.
Oxycodone is designed to lower pain, but it uses a bit of a roundabout method to deliver that pain relief. It stimulates a chemical pathway in the brain known as the dopamine pathway. Dopamine is a natural chemical used by the brain to prepare someone to experience something pleasurable or good. When a user takes in oxycodone, the body releases dopamine in response, and that reaction is often in proportion to the amount of drugs the person takes. In the beginning, a person can take oxycodone and feel a flood of dopamine, experiencing euphoria and extreme happiness as a result. Over time, however, the body tends to adjust its internal chemistry, and the person must take higher doses of oxycodone to feel the same result.
People who abuse oxycodone may find that they experience withdrawal symptoms between hits of the medication. Their bodies are no longer producing dopamine and other chemicals without a prompt from oxycodone, and the body needs those chemicals to function normally. These withdrawal symptoms can vary a bit from person to person, but often they include:
- Agitation or restlessness
- Watery eyes
- Stomach pain or nausea
It might be easy to dismiss these changes and symptoms of withdrawal as mild and an appropriate consequence for people who abuse oxycodone. It’s important to note, however, that these symptoms and brain changes are often quite severe, and they provide a very real roadblock that can keep a person from healing if they don’t have help with the process.
See Also: How Prescription Drug Addiction Starts
Risks of Abuse
People who abuse oxycodone often crush the tablets, mix them with water and inject the solution into their veins. This allows the drug to move directly into the user’s bloodstream, and the effects of the drug are often felt within minutes when users try this method. This is an extremely dangerous practice, according to medical experts. The New York Times profiled a user in September of 2011 who abused oxycodone in this way. He developed a severe heart valve infection as a result, and had to undergo emergency surgery to correct the problem. Apparently, according to his doctors, the inert materials in oxycodone tablets can infect almost any part of the human body, including the brain, the lungs and the heart. This infection risk persists even if the user relies exclusively on new, sterilized needles. It is a very real risk with oxycodone abuse.
In addition, people who abuse oxycodone face a very real risk of overdose. This is an extremely powerful medication that is simply not meant to be used in the way an addict uses it. Delivering hours of medication all at the same time is a bit like ingesting an entire bottle of wine in the course of five minutes. The results are unexpected, and often not pretty.
This risk of overdose has been raised even higher with the inclusion of a generic version of the drug. In the past, oxycodone was a patent-protected drug, and one manufacturer produced it. The pills came in several doses, including:
- 10 mg
- 20 mg
- 40 mg
- 80 mg
Each pill was clearly marked with a number that corresponded to the strength of the medication. Addicts quickly learned to look at the pills to determine the strength of the drugs they were about to take. In 2004, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, a generic form of oxycodone came to the marketplace, only available in the 80 mg dosage. One side of the pill is marked with the number 33, and the other is marked with the number 93. Neither of these numbers correspond to the dose. Addicts could take these pills, believing they’re taking a 33 mg dose, when they’re actually taking an 80 mg dose. Overdose seems quite likely in this scenario.
Signs of Use
People who use oxycodone products as prescribed by their doctors may have no side effects at all from the medication. By contrast, people who abuse the medication may feel a variety of side effects, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, including:
- Irregular breathing
They might also seem extremely relaxed or sedated, falling asleep while talking or wandering about in a bit of a daze, most of the time. In addition, the addict might ask for money or steal household items in order to raise money to buy drugs. The addict might see multiple doctors, all in a row, hoping to receive multiple prescriptions for oxycodone. The addict might also begin to miss school or work because he or she is too intoxicated to attend. All of these symptoms should be considered signs of abuse.
Differentiating people who take oxycodone for medical reasons and people who are addicted to oxycodone can be difficult, but a few simple rules apply. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that of those admitted to a detoxification program for oxycodone abuse, 78 percent were not using the drug for any medical reason. In other words, they did not have a prescription for the drugs, and they weren’t using the drugs to treat an underlying problem. Instead, they were buying or stealing the drugs in order to get high. People who do take oxycodone to treat painful conditions have a prescription, and their doctors monitor their use. They don’t exhibit many side effects, and they don’t take the drugs for fun. They shouldn’t be considered addicts. But, people who take the drugs on a recreational basis without any sort of supervision are generally more straightforward candidates for addiction therapies.
Treatment Can Help
Addictions can be persistent and hard to deal with alone, but therapies can provide Oxycodone rehab. At Michael’s House, we combine medication therapies with counseling to help addicts remove the drug from their systems and learn to build a new life that doesn’t contain drug use. These therapies can work, and they can make a world of difference for the addict.
We urge you to call if you or someone you know is struggling with an oxycodone addiction. We can help turn the situation around and get the addict on the road to life-long sobriety.