About OxyContin Addiction


What is OxyContin?

OxyContin is a prescription pain pill whose main ingredient is oxycodone. Originally it was formulated as a pain reliever for those suffering moderate to severe pain, especially for those suffering from symptoms of cancer, recovering from surgery or severe trauma. As a schedule II narcotic, it’s only supposed to be available from a physician’s prescription, under close supervision. Although OxyContin was originally advertised as being “addiction-resistant,” the truth is that it’s one of the most addictive substances we know of, and it’s frequently abused when people take higher doses than they should, and crush the pills in order to snort or inject them, creating a quicker, stronger reaction in the body.

OxyContin works the same way opiates like morphine do. They target opioid receptors in the brain, synthesizing a “high” and relaxing the body.

Signs of use (and abuse)

Prescription drug abuse is often different from other drug abuse. Those who get hooked are usually exposed to the drug through health issues and a doctor’s recommendation. Therefore, these patients don’t follow the same profile as people who get addiction through street drugs. There’s not as likely to be dramatic changes in behavior or friends, and attendant behaviors like high-risk sex or rebellion against parents.

Additionally, you won’t usually find drug paraphernalia around as a sign of drug abuse. Few things are as easy to hide as a bunch of pills. However, there are still signs of abuse, including:

  • slurred speech
  • lethargy and drowsiness
  • apathy
  • dramatic mood swings, from euphoria to depression
  • falling through in responsibilities at school and work
  • disinterestedness in things that used to be rewarding
  • paranoia

Most of all, it’s important to be vigilant against drug-seeking behavior. If someone keeps losing a prescription, asking for higher doses, or does “doctor-shopping” in order to get prescriptions from multiple sources, loved ones should be on high alert. It’s also important to be on the lookout for signs that someone is stealing money or pawning items in order to get the funds to fuel the addiction.

The indicator that someone is abusing pain medications might actually come in the form of recognizing withdrawal symptoms when the person in question is unable to find more of the substance. Signs of withdrawal might look like the flu, including severe muscle aches, fever, chills, sweating, nausea and vomiting.

Health risks of OxyContin abuse

Even when someone uses OxyContin as prescribed, there are health risks involved. When someone abuses the substance, those risks multiply exponentially.

One of the biggest risks of oxycodone abuse is overdose, and an estimated 47 people day every day from painkiller overdose. Substances like oxycodone depress the central nervous system, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. If too much of the substance is taken, the heart can stop altogether.

Long-term oxycodone abuse can also lead to kidney and liver damage, as well as impaired mental function.

Understanding the opioid epidemic

Since 1999, the amount of opioids being prescribed by doctors has quadrupled. During the same time, the amount of opioid-related deaths has also quadrupled. There are many reasons for this. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies are looking to make a profit, sometimes at the expense of the health of their patients. There are doctors who are misinformed about the dangers of certain medications until enough people have proven the risk. There may even be something to be said for the lack of emotional and mental health care in the country that leaves patients vulnerable to dangerous substances.

But whatever the reason behind the problem, we are now in the middle of a full-blown epidemic. Overdose is the most common cause of accidental death in the United States (that’s right, overdose deaths are more common than deaths from car accidents now), and prescription meds are the cause of the majority of those overdose deaths.

Man with a broken legAddiction to pain medication almost always starts with a prescription, written out to help a patient recover from moderate to severe pain. However, once the patient experiences the high that these drugs can provide, the behavior continues. Opioids are, by nature, highly addictive, since it’s very easy for the body to create a tolerance to them (meaning that you need more and more of the substance in order to get the same pain-killing or euphoric results).

One of the added dangers of the opioid epidemic is that it fuels heroin addiction. When people are unable to obtain more prescription pain medication, they turn instead to the most popular street equivalent: heroin. Of those who began opioid abuse (including heroin use) in the 2000’s, 75% report that they started with properly-prescribed pain medications.

Although legislators and activists have now taken up the cry to counter the opioid epidemic, the sad truth is that this campaign is too late for far too many individuals and families, who have lost lives to opioid overdose.

Signs of an overdose and what you can do

If someone in your household abuses (or even just uses) opiates, it’s important for you to be able to recognize the signs of an overdose.

  • Respiratory depression: This is one of the most common signs of overdose, and sometimes it’s the only sign that you’ll see. If someone’s breath has slowed way down, to the point where they’re taking 12 or less breaths per minute, it’s time to call for help.
  • Unresponsiveness, and limpness
  • Blueing skin, especially around the mouth: If an individual isn’t getting enough oxygen, sometimes you can recognize this by the coloring of the skin.
  • Vomiting: Opiate use often causes vomiting, but when coupled with loss of consciousness, it can be especially dangerous. Turn an individual on their side so that they can still breathe if they vomit while you call for help.

Some states, including Utah, have approved Naloxone to be available without a prescription, and to be used by people who have no other medical training. Naloxone is a completely safe medicine that counters the effects of opiate overdose, keeping an individual’s nervous system active for longer, and keeping them alive until professional help arrives. If someone in your house it at risk of an opiate overdose, consider keeping a Naloxone kit on hand.

What to do if someone you love is using

Addiction is a complicated, and multi-layered mental illness. Often, you’ll find polysubstance abuse, where an individual uses more than one kind of mind-altering drug. There can also be comorbidity, when an additional mental illness (besides addiction) is present, like depression or bipolar disorder.

If someone you love is abusing prescription opiates like OxyContin, it’s important to help connect them with professional help, whether or not they think they need it. Talk with their doctor about your concerns, and encourage your loved one to seek counseling in order to get a handle on their addiction.