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OxyContin and the Opioid Epidemic

OxyContin Rehab and opioid treatment programsAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids are used to treat both acute and chronic pain. The CDC goes on to say that when these drugs are used appropriately, they’re an important part of treatment for many people. However, the CDC also highlights there are serious risks associated with their use.

The risks highlighted by the CDC include abuse, opioid use disorder, overdoses and death.

OxyContin is one of the drugs that’s at the center of what’s called the opioid epidemic in the U.S. The active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, and it’s one of the most frequently prescribed and abused prescription pain medications. OxyContin can be used to treat moderate to severe pain, but if it’s used for an extended period of time, addiction and dependence are highly likely.

In the 1990s doctors freely prescribed drugs like OxyContin, often without realizing how addictive they really were. While there have been efforts in the past decade to curb the prescribing of drugs like OxyContin, they still continue to be used, and millions of people are addicted.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

OxyContin Addiction Facts

OxyContin, which has many street nicknames including Oxy and Hillbilly Heroin, is one of the most addictive prescription drugs available. OxyContin’s active ingredient is the powerful opioid oxycodone. Specifically, OxyContin is a time-release version of oxycodone.

This means that rather than fighting pain for a few hours, OxyContin is designed to provide pain relief gradually over a 12-hour period. Despite its effective pain relieving properties, people who use the drug often require professional OxyContin treatment because of how addictive it is. A long duration is good for people who rely on OxyContin for around-the-clock pain relief, but dangerous in terms of OxyContin abuse and addiction.

The following are some key things to know about OxyContin addiction and its general use:

  • When it’s prescribed, OxyContin is usually supposed to be used twice a day, rather than several times a day.
  • OxyContin is available as a tablet in dosages ranging from 10 to 80 mg.
  • Legitimate uses for OxyContin include chronic pain and cancer pain.
  • OxyContin is a schedule II controlled substance in the U.S. This means the FDA views it as having a high abuse and dependence potential.
  • A 2013 study showed that almost 80 percent of people using heroin in the U.S. said they started abusing prescription drugs like OxyContin first. That number is likely even higher now.
  • When OxyContin is crushed and snorted or injected, users report the high and the euphoria it creates as very similar to that of heroin.
  • OxyContin, like other opioids, is a central nervous system depressant.
  • Taking a dose of OxyContin that’s too high can cause a slowdown in breathing or death.

A Brief History of OxyContin

People often wonder how the opioid epidemic began or grew into the tremendous crisis that it is now. The origins of OxyContin date back to 1996.

Significant times in the history of OxyContin and the opioid epidemic include:

  • The use of the opioid morphine dates back to the Civil War and before. Morphine addiction then grew into something that was fairly common. The idea of drugs like morphine being addictive wasn’t new when OxyContin was introduced.
  • Several decades ago, doctors were looking for ways to treat chronic pain, and they started looking more deeply into the use of prescription opioids.
  • Research started to come out that seemingly showed opioid treatment for non-cancer pain could be a long-term treatment option.
  • In 1996, the manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, introduced this drug. It had been in the testing phase since 1994.
  • In the early 90s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the prescribing of pain medicines increased by anywhere from two to three million each year.
  • From 1995 to 1996, the number of prescriptions for opioids went up by 8 million.
  • The manufacturer of OxyContin introduced marketing campaigns aimed at people with chronic pain.
  • After Purdue Pharma started its marketing campaign on chronic pain, the number of opioid prescriptions being filled went up by 11 million.
  • In 2010 there was a version of OxyContin introduced with abuse-deterrent features. The hope was that the new formulation would make it harder for people to crush or break the pill. Despite these efforts, research showed people were still finding ways to abuse OxyContin.
  • Now, long after the original origins of OxyContin, prescription opioids are killing people in record numbers.
  • Research shows that the opioid dependence rate for people using these drugs for chronic pain that is not cancer-related, may be as high as 26 percent.
  • One out of every 550 patients who are prescribed an opioid therapy regimen die from causes related to opioids – a median of 2.6 years after they’re first prescribed an opioid.

OxyContin Statistics

Since 1999, 200,000 Americans are estimated to have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Along with the overwhelmingly high numbers of people dying from prescription drug overdoses, there are other issues as well.

For example, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four out of five people who try heroin started by using prescription pain medications. OxyContin sales remain in the tens of billions, despite the terrifying statistics about the drug.

Why Is OxyContin So Addictive?

OxyContin acts on the brain and central nervous system like other opioids. These drugs bind to what are called opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are found throughout the brain, the spinal cord, and the entire central nervous system.

When OxyContin activates the opioid receptors, the brain responds by triggering a flood of dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is what’s responsible for creating feelings of pleasure and happiness. Dopamine is released naturally by activities like eating and sex. However, with OxyContin and other opioids, an artificially high amount of this feel-good brain neurotransmitter is released.

When the brain feels like something is happening that creates pleasure, which is the case with the euphoria stemming from OxyContin, it is wired to want to continue seeking out what created that pleasurable response.

The brain’s reward centers are activated by the use of OxyContin and other opioids. Then, once that starts to happen someone is no longer using OxyContin out of choice. They’re using it because their brain is compulsively telling them to do so. OxyContin addiction is something that many people can’t overcome on their own, without professional help or calling an OxyContin addiction hotline.

What is OxyContin Addiction?

OxyContin addiction is a diagnosable condition and the longer someone uses the drug or the more often, the more likely an addiction is to form. Signs of OxyContin addiction can include:

  •        Continuing to use OxyContin even when there are negative effects
  •        The use of OxyContin is compulsive and out of control
  •        Trying to stop using OxyContin unsuccessfully at least once
  •        Focusing a significant amount of time and effort on obtaining and using the drug
  •        Problems meeting responsibilities at home, work or school

What is OxyContin Dependence?

OxyContin dependence can occur in as little as a week if someone uses the drug. OxyContin dependence can also form whether someone is using it exactly as prescribed or they’re abusing it recreationally. It is possible to be dependent on OxyContin without being psychologically addicted.

If someone is dependent on OxyContin and they stop using it suddenly, they are likely to have withdrawal symptoms.

Even if someone is prescribed OxyContin, their doctor will likely instruct them to gradually taper off the drug rather than stopping cold turkey. This can eliminate or at least minimize possible withdrawal symptoms.

Effects of OxyContin

OxyContin is a central nervous system depressant, as are other opioids. Whether someone is abusing OxyContin or is taking it as prescribed, certain side effects can occur. Side effects of OxyContin can include:

  •        Nausea
  •        Vomiting
  •        Dizziness
  •        Tiredness
  •        Problems with concentration or confusion
  •        Changes in mood
  •        Blurred vision
  •        Dry mouth
  •        Constipation
  •        Urination problems
  •        A slower pulse

OxyContin Addiction Symptoms

When someone abuses OxyContin, they may quickly cross the line into addiction without even realizing it. When someone is addicted to OxyContin, they will typically require professional treatment. The following are some of the signs of addiction that might indicate someone should call an OxyContin treatment hotline or seek help:

  •        Someone uses OxyContin and feels like they can’t stop
  •       Withdrawal symptoms can occur if someone stops using OxyContin suddenly
  •        OxyContin use continues even if there are negative physical side effects and health effects.
  •        Sacrificing in other area’s of one’s life, such as recreationally or socially to continue using OxyContin
  •        Putting a focus on keeping a steady supply of OxyContin
  •        Risk-taking behaviors or criminal activities may occur as a way to get more OxyContin.
  •        Someone may rely on OxyContin to deal with their problems
  •        Secrecy and denial tend to occur with OxyContin addiction
  •        Financial and relationship problems primarily relating to the continued use of OxyContin

Risk Factors for OxyContin Addiction

Addiction to OxyContin is viewed as a chronic disorder that affects the brain, the body, and behavior. Risk factors that could increase the likelihood of someone requiring inpatient OxyContin rehab or outpatient OxyContin rehab can include:

  •        Genetics and family history
  •        Having a co-occurring mental illness or condition such as depression, ADHD, or anxiety
  •        Age when the substance was first used
  •        Stress
  •        The type of the substance being used

What If Your Loved One Needs OxyContin Treatment?

Many people fear that their loved one is addicted to opioids like OxyContin, or they may know for a fact it’s true. When your loved one is struggling with addiction, they may be resistant to receiving help.

There are certain steps you can take to help them move in the right direction. For example, one of the tenants of successful addiction treatment is that it’s readily available and accessible. Loved ones of people with an OxyContin addiction can work on researching rehab and treatment options and preparing an option for their loved one if they do decide to go to treatment.

During an intervention family members and loved ones can share their boundaries with the person as well as how the OxyContin addiction affects them. Following an intervention, the loved ones of an addict can offer them the chance to go straight to rehab.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.


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