OxyContin is the brand name for a time-released version of the prescription painkiller oxycodone, a powerful narcotic often prescribed for severe and chronic pain. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, approximately 1.9 million Americans have illegally taken some form of oxycodone as a recreational drug. OxyContin abuse occurs most often when the drug is crushed or chewed, allowing dosages of oxycodone meant to be delivered over time to hit the user in a shorter time window.
As such, the user experiences a euphoric “high” or intense rush as the opiate enters his or her system, with full force. Even for users who take OxyContin as prescribed, however, drug addiction can set in rapidly due to both chemical highs and drug tolerance created by the analgesic opiate.
Factors Involved in OxyContin Addiction
Two main factors have contributed to the widespread incidence of OxyContin addiction. First, as an opiate, OxyContin acts on the brain in powerful ways — in fact, much in the same way heroin affects drug users. OxyContin has the capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier, and initiate the blockage of pain signals in the body’s Central Nervous System (CNS). OxyContin also affects opioid receptors resident in the brain, allowing the user to experience euphoric feelings associated with the drug.
Additionally, the brain’s natural chemical balance becomes disrupted after prolonged OxyContin exposure, leading addicted individuals to experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings when the drug exits the body.
A second factor involved in the high incidence of addiction to OxyContin has become associated with is its status as one of the most easily acquired drugs in circulation today. As one of the most frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals aimed at management of chronic or post-surgical pain, OxyContin has the potential for both illegal sale and use when it is obtained illegally.
Avenues for the illegal procurement of OxyContin include non-compliant internet sales, medical theft, street sales of valid prescriptions, prescription fraud and “doctor shopping” — the practice by which addicted patients invent physical conditions or approach multiple physicians for treatment in order to acquire OxyContin prescriptions. The widespread availability of OxyContin only serves to facilitate addiction through affordability, with the drug’s high presence allowing for low per-pill prices when the opiate is sold on the streets.
Tolerance and OxyContin Addiction
As the body adapts to the presence of opiates in the system, tolerance to the euphoric effects of the drug builds. Over time and with ongoing use, OxyContin no longer produces the high levels of euphoria that users seek with drug intake. This requires users to use OxyContin more frequently and in higher amounts to achieve the same sensations, in a phenomenon known as drug tolerance.
Unfortunately, though the OxyContin-addicted individual may experience a lowered high with prolonged use, the potential physical problems and psychological damage caused by the drug do not tend to become tolerated by the body. As a result, addicted individuals may find they encounter more issues of physical pain as use continues, both due to side effects of OxyContin use and the drug’s reduced ability to effectively block pain.
Signs of OxyContin Withdrawal
When an OxyContin-addicted individual suddenly ceases drug use, withdrawal symptoms frequently set in. Though these symptoms can vary in severity, users typically experience severe nausea and vomiting, hot flashes (as a result body temperature dysregulation) and tremors. Long-term OxyContin use can also cause loss of appetite, respiratory issues and cardiac problems as well as numerous psychological effects such as mood swings, severe depression, anxiety and even hallucinations.