Most of us have heard about the opioid crisis and about drug abuse issues in this country. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Oxycontin is still one of the opioid drugs most frequently abused by users in the United States.
With the emergence of more potent and deadlier opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, it may appear that the impact of Oxycontin on society is reducing, that the drug is more a fad of the past. In reality, Oxycontin remains one of the top three opioids leading to overdose and death in the US.
Like all opioids, oxycontin is a potent analgesic that is prescribed for people with painful conditions such as cancers or arthritis. It was designed to mimic the structure of morphine, an opiate synthesized from the opium in poppy plants. The drug was developed and introduced in 1995 with the belief that the extended-release formulation would decrease misuse and the risk of dependence. As a result, physicians began to prescribe the drug for longer periods than with other opioids. This strategy was encouraged by the pharmaceutical companies of the time, resulting in a marked increase for prescription rates of Oxycontin. This eventually led to a spike in opioid overdoses and deaths.
The time-released formula that makes Oxycontin so effective at treating persistent pain in fact makes it more likely to be abused – the opposite effect to the one that the big pharmaceutical companies originally predicted. The pills contain a higher quantity of the active ingredient hydrocodone. Once users remove the time-released coating on the outside of the pill, they get the full potency of the tablets.
When used as a prescription painkiller, the effects of the drug typically last for about twelve hours. Dosages range between 10 and 80 mg for a broad range of treatment options, and it is this strength that makes the drug appealing to abusers. It didn’t take long for abusers to figure out how to get around the time-release mechanism and get the full impact of the drug.
What Is Oxycodone?
You may have heard people refer to Oxycontin as oxycodone, but in fact oxycodone refers to the active ingredient of the medication while Oxycontin is the brand name. Tylox, Percodan, and Percocet also contain oxycodone, but in combination with other ingredients, while Oxycontin contains a much higher and purer concentration than its competitors. This pure concentration of oxycodone in Oxycontin and the time-release component make it the most powerful and the most viable option for treatment, but also for abuse.
Oxycodone is a schedule II controlled substance. Drugs in this class have a high potential for abuse which can lead to psychological or physical dependence. The substance may cause serious or even life-threatening respiratory problems, especially during the first few days of use and following increases in dosage. Taking Oxycontin in combination with alcohol or other drugs increases the risk and can lead to sedation or coma.
How and Why Oxycontin Is Abused
People who abuse oxycontin often crush it and swallow or snort it, or they may dissolve it in water and inject it. These methods of use destroy the time-release mechanism, giving the user the full impact of the ingredients. Smoking the drug has also gained in popularity in some regions.
Oxycontin produces a sense of euphoria similar to that of heroin, another opiate drug, and is in fact similar to heroin in other ways. Not only does Oxycontin pose a severe risk of addiction, like heroin, but abuse of the drug can also be lethal.
What Is the Difference Between Addiction and Physical Dependence?
People often cannot recognize the difference between addiction and physical dependence. While it is a fine line, there is a difference between the two. Consider the intended use of Oxycontin. As a prescription painkiller, it provides relief to people with arthritis, serious injuries, and cancer.
Unlike other types of opioids, it is given over long periods of treatment. As the person takes the drug, they develop a dependence on it over time. In other words, they rely on the effects of the drug to alleviate their pain.
With dependency, comes the need for ever higher does to achieve the same level of pain relief. One test for dependency involves reducing the dosage or ceasing the prescribed medication altogether. When these actions result in withdrawal symptoms, the person is considered to be dependent on the drug.
Dependence is a part of addiction. When people abuse Oxycontin, it leads to the psychological factors which contribute to addiction. People become addicted without intentionally misusing their prescriptions. They might increase the amount they take because they don’t feel like they’re getting enough to alleviate their pain. When they run out of their prescriptions early, they might go doctor shopping for additional prescriptions. When a new doctor writes a prescription for Oxycontin, they might go to a pharmacy out of town. These behaviors reinforce the Oxycontin addiction and form a cycle which is difficult to break.
For some users, dependency and addiction start differently. Some may have a history of drug abuse with a different substance. People often switch to a new substance after they have gone through rehab for another form of addiction. For example, someone with a history of abusing heroin might migrate to Oxycontin.
The faster the Oxycontin gets into the bloodstream, the faster it reaches the brain and causes psychoactive effects. A psychoactive drug is one that contains a chemical substance that acts on the central nervous system. It changes the way the brain functions, changing the person’s mood, behaviour, perception, and consciousness.
The psychoactive effects are the reason that people who misuse the drug take Oxycontin. The feelings of euphoria and extreme well-being encourage them to find the quickest route to the brain. In 2010, the drug’s manufacturer reformulated Oxycontin so that it was more difficult to crush. The benefits offered by the drug to patients taking it as a prescription outweigh the risks of potential abuse and addiction. This change resulted in higher costs for the original pills on the black market. It also led to a reduction in abuse and a lower demand for the altered pills.
Signs of Oxycontin Addiction
People of all ages abuse oxycontin, but the biggest concern is with our youth. It’s easy to think of Oxycontin as a drug that adults take, simply because it is often used to treat medical conditions in older adults. But the effects of the powerful opioid make it attractive to the younger generation, too.
In government studies on drug use by children in the 8th grade and above, Oxycontin use is more prevalent than Vicodin and heroin abuse across all grade levels.
Parents need to talk to their kids at an early age about the risks of opioid use. It’s also important for them to know the signs that indicate their kids might be abusing Oxycontin.
The first sign of Oxycontin use relates to its psychoactive effects. If you encounter a person right after use, the psychoactive effects are obvious. These include signs of intoxication, mood changes, altered perception, or a loss of consciousness.
Another way to spot Oxycontin use is from the paraphernalia associated with the drug. The type of paraphernalia varies with the type of use. Don’t expect drugs or tools to be immediately visible – check inside of other types of medication bottles or prescriptions, or look for pills inside of envelopes or small ziplock bags. Kids can deny their symptoms to some degree. They can’t deny having the drugs or the paraphernalia if they are caught with them.
Users who crush pills to snort them might have a blunt object like a hammer, and a razor or other tool that provides a straight edge. Look for drug residue on the edge of any objects you find. If they inject the drug, there might be a spoon, a lighter, and a syringe they use to dissolve and inject the drug.
Parents often won’t search their kids’ rooms because they don’t believe they would use drugs. No parent wants to believe their teen engages in substance abuse. Some feel it would betray their trust. However, it may be a necessary step. If there’s any chance a child is abusing Oxycontin, getting them help is a top priority. It could save their lives.
Sometimes the signs of Oxycontin abuse are apparent. The person’s life changes in every aspect. These changes could signal drug use even when there aren’t any other outward signs. Other effects commonly seen in Oxycontin users immediately following consumption of the drug are:
- Nausea and/or Vomiting
- Chills or Excessive Sweating
- Dizziness, or Staggering
- Depressed Breathing
- Mood Swings
- The Appearance of a Rash
Not all effects are short-term. Once addicted, a user may prioritize accessing the drug over all else else. The signs of addiction occur in various areas of their life including…
– Missing school or work or performing poorly
– Loss of interest in things, activities, and people that used to matter
– Ignoring basic grooming practices
– Not talking about the people they spend time with
– Withdrawing from friends and family
– Money or valuables disappearing from their home
– Large expenditures without any explanation
How to Talk to a Loved One About Oxycontin Abuse
If you confront a child or other loved one about oxycontin use, do it when they appear sober. Don’t do it in an accusatory tone. Instead, express your concerns about their drug use and the impact it’s having on their life.
Be prepared with solutions in the form of a substance abuse treatment plan. If missing work or school is problematic, suggest an outpatient treatment program. Having a conversation might be enough to convince them that treatment is the best choice. If that isn’t a feasible option, consider an intervention. An intervention is often effective for people who aren’t ready to acknowledge they no longer have control of their drug use.
What Is An Intervention?
Addiction doesn’t just affect the user; it affects the entire family. It’s hard to watch a loved one lose everything that is important to them. Sometimes a direct heart-to-heart conversation about their addiction helps the person acknowledge their need for help.
An intervention requires careful planning. You need a professional counselor or doctor to assist with the process. If the person is spiritual, someone that represents their faith might also attend. Combined with friends and family members, everyone gathers together to confront your loved one. The idea is to put the details of the situation on the table and encourage them to accept treatment.
Interventions are most successful when handled correctly. Have everyone participating give examples of how their drug use and destructive behaviors are impacting their lives and those of the rest of their family and friends. Have information about a specific treatment plan and explain every detail of the steps included. Have a plan in place in case the loved one refuses treatment.
Each person needs to pre-determine a consequence in case the intervention fails. The loved one should not be aware of the reason for going to the meeting. The intervention won’t work if they refuse to show up in the first place, which is unfortunately a risk if they have advance notice.
What to Look for in An Oxycontin Addiction Treatment Program
The most common types of treatment used for opioid addiction today are suboxone and methadone. Methadone helps people overcome their oxycontin addiction and reduces withdrawal symptoms. Methadone works differently than other painkillers do, and blocks the brain’s ability to feel the effects of opioids. It replaces the addictive drug without causing the same effects.
Suboxone is another medication used to help with oxycontin treatment. It works as an agonist to address withdrawal symptoms. It also acts as an antagonist to cause a repulsion towards other opioids.
Talk with the treatment center about your loved one’s specific needs. Provide any information about their previous drug use, mental disorders, or behavioral issues. Make sure they offer a plan that is right for your loved one’s needs.
If you or a loved one is struggling with oxycontin abuse or addiction, contact Recovery Oasis to schedule an appointment. We combine counseling with the rehabilitation process to help each person understand their addiction and the necessary steps to recover. A Behavioral Health Technician assesses every individual to determine an accurate diagnosis and their specific treatment needs.