OxyContin works by changing how the brain reacts to pain.
It is classified as an opiate (narcotic). The medication is made by Purdue Pharma and was introduced to the market in 1995.
The medication is meant to be used as instructed by a doctor, not whenever one experiences pain. A person’s dosage may differ, depending on the condition being treated. The medication is not meant to be taken longer than prescribed, and those who take OxyContin should not increase dosages on their own. Patients should ask their doctor if OxyContin might interact with other drugs they are taking.
Abusing the Drug
As is common to opiates, those who take OxyContin regularly, even with a legitimate prescription, can end up dependent on the drug. Individuals may begin to increase their dosages of OxyContin, without medical supervision, as their bodies grow tolerant to the medication, and the same dosages of the medications are no longer effective. Any use of a prescription medication outside of the guidelines of the prescription is abuse of the drug, and abuse can quickly progress to addiction.
Prescription painkiller addiction is a massive problem in the US and around the world. According to the CDC, almost 2 million people in the US abused prescription painkillers like OxyContin in 2013. Despite the fact that the US houses only 5 percent of the world’s population, this country is responsible for 75 percent of prescription drug consumption worldwide.
Like most prescription medications, OxyContin carries potential side effects, even if taken according to prescription. Those who take OxyContin need to have a diet rich in water and fiber to avoid constipation. Individuals may need to discuss the use of a stool softener (laxative) with their doctor. Some of the milder side effects of taking OxyContin include:
- Dry mouth
Some more serious side effects might include problems urinating, strong stomach or abdominal pain, mental health or mood changes, and hallucinations.
Some side effects that require immediate or emergency medical care might include seizures, fainting, difficulty waking up/excessive drowsiness, or slow breathing.
Although the likelihood of an allergic reaction is rare, there have been reported cases. A rash, hives, inflamed tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and itching could all be signs of an allergic reaction. If such a reaction is suspected, prompt medical care should be sought.
Those who are prescribed OxyContin should not operate heavy machinery or drive immediately after taking the medication. Patients should let doctors and pharmacists know about any allergies and their medical history before taking OxyContin, as it poses risks for people with past head injuries, seizures, or tumors, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or stomach issues.
People who have had problems with their bladder, a personal or family history of depression, or a personal or family history of drug abuse should also discuss these details with their physician.
As an opiate, OxyContin can be highly addictive, and those with a history of drug abuse should be closely monitored while taking the medication.
In many instances, alternative methods of pain management may be preferable for these individuals.
Alcohol should not be consumed when one is using OxyContin, and those who are pregnant or nursing should only use the medication if it is an absolute necessity. A doctor should be consulted before breastfeeding while taking the drug.
One should be careful with other medications used while on OxyContin. Individuals should tell their physician about any vitamins, herbal supplements, additional prescriptions, and over-the-counter medication they could be taking. Using other medications could affect how OxyContin is removed from the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Additional signs and symptoms of OxyContin abuse include:
- Low blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Respiratory suppression, which could result in death
- Constricted or overly dilated pupils, especially in case of overdose
The presence of withdrawal symptoms when a person is unable to take OxyContin is a clear sign of physical dependence, and often addiction. Muscle pain, depression, diarrhea, restlessness, agitation, chills, and vomiting are common symptoms of withdrawal.
Those who are addicted to OxyContin may begin to neglect other areas of their lives, such as family and friends, work duties, and their own health due to the addiction. Nar-Anon states that those closest to a person who is addicted may not be aware of an addiction until a comparison is made with previous behavior. Those who are close to the person using OxyContin might notice that the prescription is not lasting as long as it should.
Some users may begin to lose weight, have dark circles under their eyes, and seem extremely relaxed. Their pupils might seem like pinpoints and be abnormally constricted. Another symptom to look out for is increased irritability when not on OxyContin.
In order to reduce the chances of addiction, the FDA approved an abuse-resistant version of OxyContin in 2010. Purdue Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, made a version of the pill that is resistant to crushing. When users attempt to crush the pills, they turn into a jelly-like substance. The FDA has effectively banned the sale of original OxyContin, making it necessary that users are given the abuse-resistant version.
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How Addiction Begins
OxyContin addiction presents many of the same symptoms as any other addiction. People may begin to neglect duties that are important, have intense craving for the drug, and experience serious withdrawal symptoms if they cannot obtain the drug.
While OxyContin is legal via valid prescription, it can be as addictive and as strong as illegal opiates like heroin. An investigation by CNN reported that OxyContin triggers tolerance because it comes from the opioid poppy plant — the same plant that produces the morphine for heroin. Because doctors prescribe OxyContin, people may underestimate its addictive potential. Many individuals may begin taking OxyContin due to an injury or illness, starting with legitimate use of the drug. Over time, they may begin taking more pills to experience greater effects, seeking out additional prescriptions. This pattern of abuse can quickly lead to addiction.
Oftentimes, those who are addicted to OxyContin may move on to heroin use. Heroin is far cheaper on the street than prescription painkillers, and oftentimes, heroin is easier to obtain. Heroin is unregulated and usually injected, so those who move from OxyContin to heroin may face other health problems that prescription pill users do not. These health risks include abscesses in the veins, rheumatologic ailments, collapsed veins, and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, if needles are shared.
Since opiate addictions are serious and often severe addictions, medical detox is almost always required. In some instances, maintenance medications may be used as part of this medical detox process; however, medical professionals determine the appropriateness of this treatment on a case-by-case basis.
Harvard Medical School, methadone maintenance is used by an estimated 100,000 Americans. Essentially, individuals take methadone in lieu of OxyContin. The drug works to stop withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for OxyContin; however, methadone can also be abused. As a result, its use is not always advised.
Buprenorphine is another medication option used in opiate addiction treatment. Like methadone, it is used as a replacement medication; however, it is able to be prescribed and distributed by physicians whereas methadone can only be dispensed in designated clinics.
Medications are never considered to be complete addiction treatments. If medications are used, they should be part of a larger addiction treatment program that addresses the underlying issues that led to abuse and addiction in the first place.
Inpatient treatment is generally recommended for cases of opiate addiction. The length of treatment will vary according to each individual. Factors such as the severity of the abuse, treatment history, related health factors, and responsiveness to treatment affect the duration of care. Oftentimes, individuals progress to outpatient treatment once they have finished their formal inpatient treatment program.
Aftercare is an essential part of any addiction treatment program. As addiction is a chronic disorder,
some form of aftercare may be needed for the rest of life. Oftentimes, the intensity of treatment
declines with the more time a person has in recovery.