What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is the brand name for a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic containing the active ingredient oxycodone. OxyContin is a legal narcotic that is available, by prescription, to treat severe chronic or long-lasting pain. OxyContin contains between 10 and 160 milligrams of oxycodone in a timed-release tablet.
OxyContin is also known as Oxy, O.C., OxyCotton, Oxy 80 (for the 80mg dose), or ‘killer’. It most commonly exists in tablet form. These round pills come in 10mg, 20mg, 40mg, 80mg and 160mg dosages. OxyContin also comes in capsule or liquid form.
Because OxyContin is a controlled-release medication, when used correctly it provides extended relief of pain associated with cancer, back pain or arthritis. OxyContin abusers either crush the tablet and ingest or snort it or dilute it in water and inject it. Some abusers even chew it. Crushing or diluting the tablet disarms the timed-release action of the medication and causes a quick, powerful high. Eliminating the time-release factor allows for a quick and intense rush to the brain. Abusers have compared this feeling to the euphoria they experience when taking heroin.
This practise can lead to overdosing on OxyContin’s active ingredient, oxycodone, by releasing too much of the medication into the bloodstream too quickly. OxyContin is highly addictive – so higher doses of the drug must be taken when a tolerance develops.
Abuse of prescription pain medications is not new. But OxyContin is a powerful drug that contains a much larger amount of oxycodone than other prescription pain relievers.
How addictive is it?
Most people who take OxyContin as prescribed do not become addicted, but they may become somewhat physically dependent (there is a difference). Abuse occurs when patients take more than is needed for pain control, especially if they take it to get high. Patients who take their medication in a manner that grossly differs from a physician’s directions are probably abusing that drug.
If a patient continues to seek excessive pain medication after pain management is achieved, the patient may be addicted. Addiction is often (but not always) accompanied by physical dependence, withdrawal syndrome, and tolerance. Physical dependence is defined as a physiologic state of adaptation to a substance. The absence of this substance produces symptoms and signs of withdrawal. Withdrawal syndrome is often characterised by overactivity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the drug. Opioids often cause sleepiness, calmness and constipation, so opioid withdrawal often includes insomnia, anxiety, and diarrhoea.
The most serious risk associated with OxyContin is respiratory depression. Because of this, OxyContin should not be combined with other substances that slow down breathing, such as alcohol, antihistamines (like some cold or allergy medication), barbiturates or benzodiazepines.
Other common side effects include constipation, nausea, sedation, dizziness, vomiting, headache, dry mouth, sweating and weakness. Toxic overdose and/or death can occur after taking the tablet broken, chewed or crushed. People who abuse the drug (by removing the time-release coating) will experience effects for up to 5 hours. The high that is felt is opiate-like – a sedate, euphoric feeling.
Using OxyContin chronically can result in increased tolerance to the drug in which higher doses of the medication must be taken to receive the initial effect. Over time, OxyContin will become physically addictive, causing a person to experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not present. Symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea, vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps and involuntary leg movements.