Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid, meaning it can be found in nature in the broad-leaved helleborine orchid and can also be produced in a laboratory. It was developed in 1916 by German researchers as an alternative to heroin after it was outlawed in the United States. It is typically prescribed as Percocet, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, or as OxyContin, which is a time-release pure oxycodone pill. Ever since OxyContin hit the market in 1996, recreational use of oxycodone has exploded. Some users will crush up the pills to snort or smoke.
Oxycodone is more potent than an equivalent dosage of morphine but less potent than oxymorphone. It is one of the strongest pharmaceutical opioids still prescribed today. Like hydrocodone, it works as a highly selective full agonist of the μ-opioid receptor, triggering a release of endorphins that help with pain management. In high doses, the rush of endorphins causes feelings of euphoria and contentment. It may be easier to overdose on oxycodone than other pharmaceutical opioids, especially if it is abused in the raw OxyContin form.
Oxycodone is prescribed for varying degrees of pain and also after surgeries. People who regularly use it as prescribed may not appear to be any different than normal due to their body reaching homeostasis with the drug present. Those who are high on oxycodone may show distinct side effects:
People using this drug may be unusually happy or sad. In rarer instances, oxycodone use can cause hiccups, shortness of breath, urine retention, diarrhea, nervousness and loss of appetite.
When stopping use, it is highly likely that oxycodone users will experience withdrawal symptoms. The likelihood of withdrawal and intensity of symptoms increases with the amount and duration of usage. The symptoms of withdrawal may mirror those of the flu, and include fever and muscle aches. Withdrawing addicts may also have trouble sleeping. Nausea and vomiting are common with opioid withdrawal. Mental withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety and even full-blown panic attacks.
Overdoses from oxycodone are similar to other opioid overdoses. Oxycodone was the leading cause of drug-related deaths in the U.S. in 2011. The most dangerous overdose symptom is respiratory and cardiac depression. One symptom more likely to present in oxycodone overdoses is circulatory collapse, which is when the body’s circulation system fails. This can result in numbness of the extremities as well as cold or clammy skin. Other signs of oxycodone overdose include constricted pupils, low blood pressure, pauses in breathing and shallow breathing. It is possible that an overdose can result in brain damage as a result of brain hypoxia.
Users who are overdosing or experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms may be administered Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of opioids. Those who are heavily addicted to oxycodone may need medical assistance with withdrawal. One form of treatment involves the drug Suboxone, which is a combination of buprenorphine and Naloxone. Suboxone has a “ceiling” to how high users can feel while on it, giving it a lower potential for abuse, while it is also able to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal. However, Suboxone itself can be addictive.
Oxycodone addiction is serious and can be life-altering. People may be able to get professional help through substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation programs. There are specialized addiction centers that can help people through withdrawal and facilitate their recovery. Mental health therapy has been effective for some people, including motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy. Some people also find group therapy, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, helpful due to the collaborative atmosphere and supportive network.
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