Oxycontin is a branded version of the painkiller oxycodone, which like other opiates is prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone treats pain by binding to the opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord, which reduces the sensation of pain. It is able to do so by altering the pain signals sent to your brain and your emotional reaction to the pain. However, pain relief isn’t the only effect of oxycodone. Whichever version of oxycodone you take – Oxycontin, Oxecta or Oxyfast – the medication can give you a euphoric high. You may experience this when taking higher doses of the opiate for pain management, though the feeling of euphoria is the main reason for Oxycontin abuse. Opiates trigger strong feelings of pleasure, as they interfere with the production of dopamine, increasing levels of this feel-good brain messenger, which encourages users to take these drugs again and again.
When taken as prescribed, Oxycodone is only associated with mild side-effects, but adverse effects are more likely when used for recreational purposes. As the Center for Substance Abuse Research discusses, the main secondary effects of oxycodone are:
- Low blood pressure
- Irregular or reduced breaths
- Heart failure
Signs of Oxycodone Abuse
While oxycodone tablets are usually swallowed to treat genuine pain, when abused people may chew, snort or inject the drug. Crushing the tablet into a fine powder allows snorting and dissolving this powder in water enables injection of oxycodone. This makes the effects more potent, as it over-rides the time-delay mechanism allowing the active ingredients to act almost immediately. However, as the opiate is not intended for use in this way, it increases the risks of adverse effects and an overdose.
Previously research has shown that Oxycontin is the most widely abused opioid analgesic. Data shows that the typical person to abuse Oxycontin is a white male in their thirties who has a history of drug misuse and that the majority of users acquire oxycodone via a physician’s prescription. However, as prescription drug abuse can affect anyone, no one is immune, with the figures showing that anyone from their teens through to their seventies, and from any ethnic group, may misuse oxycodone.
While the secondary effects of oxycodone are more apparent when the drug is misused, there are certain tell-tale signs that someone is abusing prescription opiates. As the University of Rochester explains, the following are an indication of prescription drug abuse:
- Taking higher and more frequent doses of the medication due to the development of tolerance
- Losing control of the number of pills you take and feeling unable to cut back your intake
- Obsessively counting the tablets to check you have enough to satisfy your needs
- Making unnecessary visits to your own or other doctors, or to the emergency department, to increase your supply of painkillers
- Taking the pills in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol
- Becoming secretive over your use of the medication, often hiding evidence of the tablets
- Experiencing drug cravings if you don’t take the medication
Is Oxycodone Addictive
As Oxycontin and related drugs trigger the dopamine reward system, this promotes repeated use of opiates, which increases the likelihood that an addiction will develop. With long-term use of oxycodone the National Institute for Drug Abuse describes how this leads to changes in the way your brain cells work, which can occur even if you are prescribed the opiate for legitimate reasons. These changes in your brain encourage you to seek out opiates and also reduce the pleasure you feel through natural rewards such as enjoyable food and activities. As a result you put drug taking above other things in your life, so in oxycodone addiction it becomes your focus. You therefore lose interest in everything that was once important to you, so you may experience the following:
- Difficulty at school – your attendance and grades may suffer, and you may even drop out of school altogether
- Difficulty at work – reduced motivation and increased absenteeism may lead to a drop in your productivity and may lead to job loss
- Difficulty in your relationships – your secretive behavior and preference to take drugs may strain your relationship with your partner, family and friends
- Isolation – choosing to spend more time by yourself to abuse Oxycontin and dropping your previous interests can reduce your social contact further
- Getting a criminal record – this may occur if you use fraudulent prescriptions or obtain medication through other illegal channels
- Taking unnecessary risks – as you value other things less, you may start taking risks you otherwise wouldn’t such as having unprotected sex or sharing dirty needles
As an addiction to oxycodone increases your risk of adverse health effects, an overdose and destroying other aspects of your life, if you believe you may have developed an unhealthy habit or a loved one has, seeking help to manage opiate addiction is essential. It is very difficult for someone to withdraw from an opiate painkiller without specialist input due to the tolerance that develops to the drug with repeated use, which results in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you try to detox. According to Harvard Medical School, opiate withdrawal symptoms include feeling anxious and agitated, aching muscles and tremors, going hot and cold, and digestive upset. Exactly how you will react when you withdraw from oxycodone is not clear till you begin a detox, though you are likely to experience more severe symptoms if you were a heavy user and try to withdraw quickly. This is why a medically supervised opiate detox will take into account your individual circumstances and tailor the withdrawal process accordingly. You will also have access to treatments to minimize withdrawal symptoms during a supervised detox, and methadone and buprenorphine maintenance can be used to help you to function better in your everyday life and comply with other forms of treatment such as counseling, which is crucial to promote lasting abstinence.
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