A drug like oxycodone could be pointed to as the main culprit in this explosion of opioids in the United States, and we wouldn’t be too far-fetched for making this accusation. The current state of the opioid crisis according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is said to be taking 140 lives a day from opiate overdoses. To better understand what is happening, we must take a step back and read into what caused this wave of destruction. Three waves are linked to the rise in overdose deaths, and it all began in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies told doctors opioids were not addictive; clearly, this was not the case. From 1999 to 2017 there have been close to 400,000 total deaths.
During this first wave, doctors began prescribing drugs like Percocet and OxyContin at rates we had never seen before. The number of people suffering from chronic pain never increased, but the number of prescriptions given by doctors had surpassed the number of people in distress. The overdose deaths attributed to prescription opioids began to skyrocket as a result, and then paved the way toward the second wave of the opioid crisis. As the government started to take notice and the death rate increased, there were stronger restrictions put in place to limit the number of prescriptions being given out. This caused the second wave which began in 2010.
In 2010 with access to prescriptions becoming more difficult to obtain, those that fell victim to addiction during the first wave began to look for their drug of choice on the street. There was an explosion of heroin overdose deaths that rocked the United States. The problem only continued to worsen as time went on. By 2013, the third wave of the crisis began to take hold. There was a significant increase in the number of overdose deaths that involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Over time, fentanyl has become a big market for illicit drug dealers due to its cost and easy access. Heroin isn’t considered heroin anymore because it often contaminated with fentanyl, and even prescription pills are counterfeit and test positive for the drug.
The crisis all stemmed from drugs like oxycodone which is referred to as hillbilly heroin. Just because a doctor prescribes it and it has an FDA approval it does not mean its safe. Oxycodone is a synthetic version of heroin that is used to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. Prescription medications are viewed as gateways to heroin, and statistics back up those claims. Three out of four heroin addicts admit to getting their start from prescription medications like oxycodone. Oxycodone has an extremely high potential for abuse when not used as prescribed, and it has been said the drug offers minimal medical value. It is a slippery slope between using as prescribed and addiction with this drug.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone hydrochloride is the active ingredient in OxyContin and Percocet that belongs to a class of medications known as opioid analgesics. Oxycodone is prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain and is used for chronic pain. In the bigger picture of drugs, it is known as a depressant that has a similar effect with alcohol or benzodiazepines. It works by blocking pain receptors in our brain and slows messages that travel between the body and mind. It works similarly to other opioids like morphine.
There are side effects to be noted such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, constipation, dry mouth, itching, and sweating. Oxycodone also has a high probability of causing addiction, withdrawal, dependence, and overdose if it is abused.
Oxycodone was synthesized in 1916 in Germany and was an alternative to heroin or morphine. It came to the United States in 1939, but was never popular or widely used until 1996 when Purdue Pharma used it for OxyContin.
Abuse was never the intention, but over time that became a problem unable to be ignored.
Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Addiction
It is difficult to determine when someone is addicted to prescription medications in the early stages. When someone is using the drugs as a means to relieve pain, it may be a barrier that doesn’t allow them to see the negative consequences attributed to their use. Those who suffer from chronic pain will attest to these medications allowing them to have some quality of life, but at what point does this turn into an addiction? There is a pattern that follows, and if someone you know has become addicted to oxycodone, you need to familiarize yourself with the side effects and symptoms – knowing these can save someone’s life.
The first sign of a substance use disorder is tolerance. Tolerance is when the dose prescribed by the doctor is no longer effective. The dose gradually becomes weaker over time, and this could force you to increase the dose to achieve the initial effects which could lead to dependence.
When you continue using the drug despite a growing tolerance, it can result in dependence on oxycodone. Dependency is related to addiction but it is not the same. Dependence is caused when the brain relies on oxycodone to maintain balance and normalcy. If you stop abruptly or cut down the dose of oxycodone and suffer from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, this is an indicator that your body has become dependent on the drug. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal are closely related to the flu and include excessive yawning, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chills.
If you’re concerned that yourself or someone you know is abusing oxycodone, some of the behavioral signs to look out for include:
- Mood swings
- Lying about drug use
- Trying to quit but failing despite multiple attempts
- Hiding drugs around the house
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Decreased performance at work or school
Addiction is the final stage of a substance use disorder and is defined as the compulsive drug use despite the consequences that occur as a result which can range from diseases or being fired from work.
Oxycodone Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment will give you the opportunity to claim what is yours – control over your life. The continuum of care will address substance use disorders by delving deep to the root of your addiction. This will treat the needs that range from balancing a checkbook to therapy sessions to address depression. In most cases of severe drug addiction, there will be a dual diagnosis given out which will help the team better treat your unique needs.
Treatment should take a customized approach since no one is dealing with the same problems. For treatment to be effective, it needs to address the medical, social, psychological, legal, and financial needs.
Withdrawal symptoms from oxycodone aren’t dangerous but somewhat uncomfortable. The sickness attributed to opioid withdrawal is the barrier drug users say that keeps them using. It’s not to get high but to avoid illness. Due to this reason, the initial stage of treatment you should look into is medical detoxification. It is the first and most intensive stage in the continuum of care and involves 24-hour supervision by trained addiction specialists that will monitor you to ensure everything goes according to the plan.
The next step in the continuum of care is dependent on the severity of addiction and if you have a safe living environment. The types of treatment include:
- Residential inpatient services
- Intensive outpatient services
- Outpatient services
No matter where you are placed, you will have access to a variety of therapies designed to address triggers and learn coping mechanisms for post-treatment life. The therapies can range from group therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy.
Oxycodone Abuse Statistics
- 21% to 29% of patients with opioid prescriptions abuse them
- 191 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2017.
- 80% of people who use heroin misused prescriptions first.