What is oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from thebaine, an opioid alkaloid found in the Persian poppy and one of the many opioid alkaloids found in the opium poppy. Commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin, it is an analgesic prescribed for the relief of minor to moderate, acute, or chronic pain.
Oxycodone was first developed in 1917 in Germany as one of several new semi-synthetic opioids in an attempt to improve on the existing opioids. Today, oxycodone is available as a single-ingredient medication in both immediate-release and extended-release formulas.
Immediate-release oxycodone is prescribed for certain types of severe acute pain or chronic pain for which other medications do not provide sufficient relief.
Extended-release oxycodone is used to manage persisting, severe pain that cannot adequately be controlled with non-opioid pain relievers or immediate-release pain medications.
Oxycodone is a strong opioid drug, much stronger than generic drugs or painkillers. Its dose equivalent ratio to morphine is 1:1.5 for immediate-release and 1:2 for extended-release.
Combination oxycodone products formulated with non-narcotic ingredients such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and paracetamol are also available as immediate-release formulations. A combination with naloxone is available in managed-release tablets. The naloxone precipitates opioid withdrawal symptoms and blocks faster onset if the tablet were to be crushed and filtered for injection or otherwise used illicitly.
Opioids, including oxycodone, bring pain relief and pleasant feelings of relaxation and euphoria. However, it can be a highly addictive drug that, in high doses, can also cause drowsiness, slowed breathing, confusion, nausea, and decreased blood pressure.
- More than 13 million Americans are known to abuse oxycodone, including schoolchildren as young as 12.
- 2.4% of 12th grade American schoolchildren had reported using OxyContin (a brand of oxycodone) in 2019.
- Painkiller abuse contributes to an estimated 100,000 American hospital admissions yearly.
- Since 2010, over $21 million worth of OxyContin has been sold in the United States.
Oxycodone & opiate drug dependence, addiction & substance use disorder
Opioid addiction, tolerance, and dependence arise as a result of neuroadaptive and biochemical changes in the brain. Endorphins are released from the pituitary gland in response to different stimuli such as pain, stress, or pleasurable activities. They help to alleviate pain and promote feelings of euphoria, or well-being. Opioids also trigger this response.
How does someone develop a dependence or addiction to oxycodone?
With repeated opioid use, the opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body gradually begin to respond in a less pronounced manner due to the development of neuroadaptations. Further, the production of the brain’s natural endorphins decreases, and the endorphin system develops an increasing psychological and physical dependence on opioid drugs for external stimulation.
A tolerance to the opioid drug (in this case, oxycodone) is developed, meaning a higher dose is required to achieve the desired pain-relieving or euphoric effect. This tolerance is often what leads to dependence, drug addiction, substance abuse, and opioid use disorders.
When opioid drugs bind to the opioid receptors regularly, this eventually affects the function of dopaminergic neurons that regulate the feeling of reward and well-being. It also affects noradrenergic neurons, which regulate alertness, wakefulness, blood pressure, breathing, etc.
Over a period of regular usage, the brain’s neurons involved in the reward system adapt to the new routine of oxycodone consumption. When too much oxycodone is taken an overdose can occur as opioid receptors become overstimulated. This leads to excessive stimulation of dopaminergic neurons and the suppression of noradrenergic neurons which, in turn, leads to dangerous effects such as respiratory depression.
When the consumption of opioid drugs stops, dopaminergic neurons are suppressed and noradrenergic neurons are overstimulated. This can lead to experiencing oxycodone withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms and potential health issues of oxycodone use
Oxycodone is associated with the potential for abuse/opioid misuse, addiction, overdose, and other risks associated with withdrawal. One of the effects of oxycodone overdose is respiratory depression. An oxycodone overdose can slow your breathing down to the point of stopping completely.
The potential for abuse is high, even when oxycodone is taken as a painkiller according to the doctor’s prescription. The risk of oxycodone addiction or overdose and its potential for abuse is even higher when the drug is taken without adhering to a doctor’s recommendations.
Some people tend to exhibit more symptoms than others when it comes to oxycodone addiction. Common symptoms to look out for include:
- Dizziness or drowsiness
- Changes in mental health
- Pain in the stomach or abdomen
- Muscle cramps
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Runny nose
- Depressed respiratory system (slowed breathing)
- Fear, confusion, or paranoia
- Migraine or headache
- Ringing ears
- Poor vision
Signs of opioid abuse and opioid addiction
If you are unsure if you or someone you know has an opioid use disorder or addiction to drugs such as oxycodone, there are some signs you can look out for:
- The substance is taken in higher doses than prescribed, and/or for longer periods than prescribed.
- Inability to quit oxycodone/opioid drugs, despite the desire to do so.
- Devoting a large amount of time to the acquisition of oxycodone or other opioids — often at the expense of work, family time, or other responsibilities.
- Spending a large amount of time recovering from the use of the drug.
- Craving the substance to a point where acquiring oxycodone becomes prioritized over almost everything else.
- Inability to live up to standards of work or relationships due to drug use.
- Mental illness or mental disorders caused by the use of the drug.
- Acquiring the drug through illegal methods such as theft, fraud, or the black market.
- Continuing to use the drug, despite experiencing potentially life-threatening health effects.
- Using the drug to cope with the physical or psychological pain that was caused by substance abuse in the first place.
- Experiencing tolerance to the drug.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when coming off the drug.
- If you feel as though you may be starting to develop a dependence or addiction to opioids, the best thing to do is stop taking opioids and discuss an addiction treatment plan with your doctor.
Oxycodone abuse & overdose
If a person is susceptible to opioid abuse and takes too much oxycodone or other drugs that contain the substance, an overdose may occur. When a person overdoses, they can experience a myriad of side effects — some deadly. Common symptoms of overdose include:
- Constricted pupils
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach aches or pain in the abdomen
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Slow or weakened heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Depressed breathing or inability to breathe at all
- Blue lips and/or fingernails
- Loss of consciousness
If you see someone exhibiting signs of opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and request emergency medical health care.
Naloxone for opioid overdose
Naloxone is a drug used for mitigating or reversing the health effects of opioid overdose. Naloxone works by binding to opioid receptors in much the same fashion as opioids themselves, thus blocking the opioid from taking effect. In the case of drugs like oxycodone or fentanyl, which are much stronger than most other opioid drugs, multiple doses of naloxone may be required to treat an overdose. In some states, naloxone can be dispensed at pharmacies or drug stores without prescription.
Prescription pain management medications & oxycodone
Because of its effectiveness as a medical treatment for pain, oxycodone can be found in a variety of opioid painkillers and prescription drugs. Common prescription painkillers that contain oxycodone include but are not limited to:
- Oxy IR
Prescription opioid medication like oxycodone comes with a high risk for dependence. Patients can find themselves reliant on the drugs for pain relief or to avoid withdrawal symptoms. When they can’t get these painkillers legally, they often turn to illicit street drugs—despite the risk of overdose, adverse effects, or even death. This is where prescription drug abuse and opioid dependence often come into play, which can lead to a prescription opioid addiction.
Oxycodone can help with sleep, especially if constant pain is keeping you awake. However, oxycodone can also have the opposite effect and severely impact sleeping habits — especially in the withdrawal phase. People who use the drug may experience feelings of relaxation and drowsiness, however, if the user begins to feel symptoms of opiate withdrawal, it can also cause insomnia.
Oxycodone is an opioid substance that is used as a key ingredient for many opiate medications. OxyContin is simply a brand name for a medication that contains the time-release version of oxycodone.
The time it takes oxycodone to take effect and begin to relieve pain depends largely on the physical make-up of the user and the method used to take it. However, oxycodone is generally a fast-acting pain medication and takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes to take effect.
Although it is a highly controlled Schedule II substance, Oxycodone is completely legal if prescribed by a doctor. However, it is illegal to distribute or acquire the pain medication through illegitimate means such as the black market or sharing with friends or family. This is because it has a high potential for addiction and is often abused for reasons other than simple pain relief.
Oxycodone should not be taken with any other drug unless prescribed by your doctor. Mixing alcohol and oxycodone can be particularly dangerous, and can cause severe liver damage or even liver failure. If you are unsure about how to take oxycodone as prescribed by your doctor, you can ask them for more health information.
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) is an addiction and withdrawal recovery treatment that aims to bring the nervous system back to health and balance by decreasing receptor production in the brain while allowing the body to resume proper levels of endorphin production. ANR is an effective treatment that also allows the metabolizing and elimination of unnecessary exogenous opioids from the body which can help to treat opioid use disorders and addiction. The ANR treatment centers are located at various ANR treatment centers across the country.