Why is OxyContin So Addictive?

The medication known as OxyContin was first introduced in 1995 as a remedy for moderate to severe pain. Like morphine and other powerful painkillers, OxyContin is highly addictive.

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Patient at The Rose in Newport Beach

It has been classified as a Schedule II controlled drug that can only be obtained with a prescription. Since its introduction, OxyContin has become the most frequently prescribed pain medication in North America. At the same time, illegally obtained OxyContin has become a major problem for drug enforcement officials.

Why is OxyContin so addictive?

OxyContin is a time-release oral version of oxycodone, an opium derivative.  Oxycodone is the active ingredient in other pain relievers like Percodan and Percocet.  The time-release characteristic of OxyContin allows it to effectively manage pain over a period of several hours.  Abusers of OxyContin have found that chewing OxyContin tablets or injecting or snorting crushed tablets produces an intense high that has been compared to heroin.  Circumventing the time-release mechanism by breaking up OxyContin tablets greatly increases the risk of addiction and overdose.

Like other opiate narcotics, OxyContin can be fatal when combined with alcohol or other brain depressant drugs or when taken in high doses.  A recent study in Boston found that OxyContin is a gateway drug for heroin, which addicts may start using as a cheaper alternative to OxyContin.

Who is at risk for OxyContin addiction?

Many people who become addicted to OxyContin are introduced to it when it’s prescribed by a doctor for relief from severe or chronic pain.  Anyone who takes OxyContin can become dependent, but those who are prone to addictive behavior are at even greater risk.  Law enforcement officials and emergency room personnel report that OxyContin abuse is higher among teenagers and young adults.  Because of the high incidence of OxyContin addiction in rural areas, especially in the Appalachia area of the U.S., OxyContin is sometimes referred to as “hillbilly heroin.”

Because of the high demand for illegal OxyContin, some patients with legal prescriptions sell OxyContin tablets to drug dealers for a profit.

What are the symptoms for OxyContin addiction?

The most obvious sign of OxyContin addiction is a preoccupation with obtaining the drug and a desire to increase dosage frequency.  A person who has been legally prescribed the drug but has become addicted will continue to want it in greater doses even though pain management has been achieved.

In addition to anxiety, the physical symptoms of OxyContin addiction may include:

  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Apathy
  • Nausea and vomiting

OxyContin depresses respiration, causing a slowing in breathing.  Those with respiratory problems who abuse OxyContin are at risk of respiratory failure. What are the treatment options for OxyContin addiction? Caution should be exercised when stopping use of OxyContin.  Since OxyContin is an opiate, abruptly reducing consumption can bring on the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Aching muscles
  • Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms, including nausea and chills
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Seizures and convulsions

The safest way to recover both physically and psychologically from OxyContin addiction is under the supervision of a doctor.   Recent advances in medicine have made the detox process and follow-up less painful and more effective.  The road to recovery from OxyContin addiction begins with a call for help.

by McKayla Arnold