Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller that is used to treat moderate to severe and chronic pain. It is one of many types of prescription opioids, all of which can be used to treat pain, but which also have a high potential for abuse. Abuse of these drugs can easily lead to addiction, which is difficult to overcome. Another major issue with oxycodone and similar drugs is that they cause overdose deaths.
As a generic drug oxycodone is sold under various brand names. OxyContin, an extended release form of the drug has been blamed for initiating a decades-long epidemic of abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths from opioid painkillers. Oxycodone addiction is a serious problem and drug makers, especially Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin have had to pay out in lawsuits.
Oxycodone and Brand Names
The first time oxycodone was synthesized was nearly 100 years ago in 1917 in a German laboratory. At this time chemists were trying to make new compounds based on those found naturally in the opium poppy. They hoped to find new medications that could be used to treat pain and other conditions without the addictiveness of natural opioids like morphine. Oxycodone was derived from the natural compound called thebaine.
Oxycodone is used today to treat moderate to severe pain. As an opioid painkiller its use is supposed to be restricted to serious cases of pain, chronic pain, and pain that is not responding to other medications. One common use of oxycodone is in patients struggling with the pain associated with cancer. It can be hard to find a medication that really works and the risks of using oxycodone are outweighed by the relief many patients experience with it.
Oxycodone is a generic drug and there are several brand name products that include it as an ingredient. Some of these are Roxicodone, Oxaydo, Oxecta, OxyIR, and OxyContin. Other products, like Percocet, Endocet, and Combunox combine oxycodone with acetaminophen or aspirin. Extended release forms of oxycodone, like OxyContin, contain higher doses per pill, but is supposed to be released over a 12-hour period to help people with round-the-clock pain.
Abuse of Oxycodone
Oxycodone, along with many other opioid painkillers, is considered to be a drug with a high potential for abuse. As it blocks pain signals it also triggers a flood of dopamine in the brain which results in a feeling of euphoria. It is this phenomenon that leads to abuse. A person abusing oxycodone is chasing that high. Some people may seek the drug out specifically for this purpose, while others may have been prescribed it for a legitimate reason and then start to abuse it.
The potential for abuse of oxycodone is high enough that the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies it as a schedule II controlled substance along with other opioids like morphine and hydrocodone. Being listed as schedule II means that oxycodone has a high potential for abuse, it has a medical use, and that abuse can lead to dependence.
Abuse Leads to Oxycodone Addiction
Abusing an addictive drug like oxycodone is risky for several reasons, one of which is that it can lead to a physical and psychological dependence, also known as addiction. Abuse leads first to tolerance, which means that you need more and more of the drug to get high. This turns into a terrible cycle of taking more and more of the drug until you cannot function normally without it. When this happens, you are addicted and only professional care will reverse that.
Withdrawal is an important sign of addiction. Abusing a drug like oxycodone leads to the experience of withdrawal as it leaves the body. Without the next fix, a person will experience terrible symptoms that often result in going back to the drug. Withdrawal from oxycodone may include anxiety, nausea, fever, muscle pain, flu-like symptoms, irritability, and insomnia. The first step in treating and addiction is to push through these symptoms while detoxing from the drug. This is very difficult to do, and many people need medical help to get through it.
Other Consequences of Oxycodone Addiction
Abusing oxycodone may lead to addiction, but it can lead to a whole host of other problems. These include lifestyle problems like losing a job, getting divorce, losing access to and custody of children, experiencing abuse or being abusive, and even homelessness. Even those people who manage to hang onto jobs and family may experience many health complications.
Abuse of oxycodone can make side effects and complications caused by the drug more severe. These include headaches, nausea, seizures, low blood pressure, and death. Abusers of the drug are at risk for overdosing. Taking too much of an opioid can lead to difficulty breathing, cardiac arrest, a coma, and death. An overdose is a medical emergency that must be treated immediately.
The OxyContin Addiction Epidemic
One particular oxycodone product, OxyContin, has been blamed for triggering a major epidemic of abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. In the late 1990s the epidemic began when Purdue introduced this extended release formula of oxycodone. Abusers of opioids figured out quickly that they could crush the pills to get the entire, large dose all at once.
With access to greater doses of the drug, many people became addicted more quickly and many died of accidental overdoses. The epidemic was at its worst in poor, rural areas of eastern Kentucky. Purdue has paid a high price for the mistake and has since reformulated OxyContin so that crushing a pill will not release the full dose. The FDA allowed the company to reintroduce the product in 2013 and promote it as abuse-resistant.
Once someone has become addicted to a drug like oxycodone, it can be very difficult to overcome that addiction. Professional treatment is necessary and may include individual therapy, group counseling, family counseling, inpatient rehabilitation, and medical treatment with drugs that are designed to reduce cravings. Purdue has paid nearly $1 billion in settlements because of all the cases of oxycodone addiction it caused. For some, those who died, the money would never be enough.