OxyContin Addiction, Withdrawal, and Treatment
- OxyContin Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Abusing OxyContin
- OxyContin Withdrawal & Detox
- Treatment for OxyContin Dependency
OxyContin is a branded, time-release version of the narcotic pain reliever oxycodone. This opioid drug is typically prescribed by a doctor to treat long-lasting pain associated with chronic or terminal conditions such as arthritis and cancer. OxyContin is available as a capsule and goes by the street names of Oxy, OCs, Oxycet, Oxycottons, Oxy 80s, Hillbilly Heroin, and Killers. The medication is commonly crushed and snorted, chewed, or dissolved in water and injected, practices that counteract the extended release and allow users to feel effects instantly. When a person is under the influence of OxyContin, they are referred to as being “jammed.”
Oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, is a semi-synthetic opiate made by modifying thebaine, an organic compound found in opium. In its generic form, oxycodone is short-acting. Doctors typically prescribe it for the short-term treatment of severe pain caused by surgeries and injuries. Chemically, oxycodone works similarly to codeine by targeting the body’s central nervous system and altering how a user experiences pain, both emotionally and physically. As a result, people who are in pain will be relieved. People using and abusing the drug for pleasure will experience a euphoric high. The drug produces opiate-like effects similar in potency to morphine.
Because OxyContin has both legitimate medical uses and a high abuse potential, it is considered a Schedule II controlled substance. Abuse of oxycodone has been a continuing problem since the 1960s, but began to increase when OxyContin manufacturers began to market the drug in 1996. At that time, reports of illicit use and abuse began to increase. Because it is relatively expensive, oxycodone was initially known as a “white collar” addiction. In recent years, however, abuse has increased among all ethnic and economic backgrounds. Prescription opioid pain pills have become an epidemic in the United States, where they have claimed more than 200,000 lives. In 2007, lawmakers even fined Purdue Pharma, who manufactures and distributes the drug, for marketing the product in a way that “exacerbated” abuse and trafficking.
Repeated misuse or abuse of oxycodone changes the way your brain works over time and can have negative and sometimes deadly consequences, including addiction. As a user’s tolerance increases, more of the drug will be required to feel its effects. Addicts who cannot continue paying for these drugs may be desperate to obtain them, and may turn to purchasing them from individuals or receiving prescriptions from multiple doctors to get them. In some cases, addicts turn to cheaper, more dangerous drugs like heroin to satisfy their cravings.
Signs & Symptoms of Abusing OxyContin
When using OxyContin as prescribed, most users will experience mild side effects, including cognitive impairment that could affect the ability to drive. People using the drug for recreational purposes will experience these same effects.
When the drug is taken without a prescription, in a manner other than orally, or in larger quantities than prescribed, there can be serious complications, including
- irregular or slow breathing,
- increased cerebral and spinal fluid pressure,
- heart failure, and/or
- low blood pressure.
If a person takes too much OxyContin, it is possible to overdose on the drug. Without proper medical attention, an overdose experience can result in cardiac arrest, respiratory depression, or even death. When administered immediately, naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is available as an injectable or nasal spray and is usually administered by a medical professional. In some states, however, it can be purchased with or without a prescription at a local pharmacy.
OxyContin Withdrawal & Detox
Like with most opioids, most users who abruptly stop using OxyContin will experience withdrawal symptoms, including
- muscle pain,
- fever, and/or
- other flu-like symptoms.
Depending on the amount and duration of use, withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe and should always be monitored by a physician. In some cases, mild symptoms may be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain, nausea, and diarrhea medications. Severe opioid withdrawal can be very painful, and may require hospitalization and/or medical assistance.
Treatment for OxyContin Dependency
Research has shown that people who follow detoxification with abstinence are more likely to relapse. For this reason, treatment for OxyContin addiction includes both immediate detox and long-term management. This treatment protocol is similar to that suggested for heroin and other opioids.
There are three medications used in opioid maintenance programs: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Each of these medicines works differently, but they all support recovery by reducing a user’s withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, works by binding to and activating opioid receptors less forcefully than the abused drugs. When taken at the right dosage and for the right length of time, buprenorphine can reduce symptoms and drug cravings. This form of treatment is available in a clinical office as a 6-month subdermal implant or as a monthly injection, making it more accessible than other medications.
Methadone, a synthetic opioid agonist, is similar to other opiates in the way it activates opioid receptors in the brain. It just does so more slowly. Opioid addicts who take methadone see a reduction in withdrawal symptoms without the desirable euphoria that illegal substances elicit. For more than 40 years, methadone has been used to treat addiction. However, the treatment is only available through certified opioid treatment programs because of its high abuse potential. Because methadone needs to be taken daily, lack of availability can be a challenge for recovering addicts.
Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, works by blocking opioid receptors. This prevents opioid drugs from activating them and producing euphoric effects. In the past, naltrexone has been more difficult for patients to tolerate. Treatment is also more difficult to adhere to. Doctors are hopeful that a recently-developed, injectable, long-acting form of the drug will benefit patients who don’t have daily access to treatment or who struggle with adherence.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) requires that patients participate in individual and/or group counseling services in addition to medication-assisted therapy. Counseling helps patients reduce or stop substance use, build skills, and adhere to a recovery plan.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps former addicts identify and stop behaviors that can result in drug abuse. This type of therapy also teaches individuals how to avoid these stressors, situations, or feelings, and/or respond to them in a more positive way.
Contingency management is a form of therapy that focuses on assisting recovering addicts with staying on their sobriety plan by providing incentives for positive behaviors. Motivation enhancement therapy works similarly, encouraging people with substance abuse problems to commit to specific actions during recovery.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other twelve-step programs keep an individual in recovery engaged and provide access to recovery resources throughout the process. Group counseling also provides fellowship and social reinforcement in recovery.
- Oxycodone vs. OxyContin – Healthline.com
- OxyContin: Pain Relief vs. Abuse – WebMD.com
- OxyContin Goes Global – LA Times
- Oxycodone – Center for Substance Abuse Research
- Opioids – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Withdrawing from Opiates and Opioids – Healthline.com
- Medications to Treat Opioid Addiction Research Report – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Treatments for Substance Use Disorders – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)