Can addiction be treated? Yes, but it’s not simple.
You’re in pain, and your doctor prescribes oxycodone. Or you’re at a gathering, and someone hands you a few tablets to enhance your mood. Those pills may look innocent, but as thousands of people can attest, oxycodone is one of the most dangerously addictive substances on the market today.
Every person with an oxycodone addiction decided to take the first pill. Then, the drug took over and eliminated that choice. Soon, people were taking the medication just to keep from feeling sick.
If you’re worried about either preventing or addressing an oxycodone addiction, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we will:
- Outline what oxycodone is.
- Define the scope of oxycodone abuse.
- Describe what abuse looks like.
- Detail oxycodone addiction treatments.
What Is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a prescription painkiller, and it comes in a few formulations, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Some come mixed with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Others come in extended-release tablets for around-the-clock pain relief. And still others hold only oxycodone alone. The medication can be delivered as a tablet or a solution.
Brand names for oxycodone products include:
Oxycodone is marketed as a pain reliever, but it doesn’t actually address pain’s causes. Instead, it tinkers with brain chemistry. After taking a dose, your pain is still there, but it’s easier for you to ignore. The brain is flooded with pleasure chemicals, and those trick you into believing you can tolerate even big bolts of discomfort. We call this euphoria.
It’s the euphoria that is so difficult from an addiction perspective. People describe it as:
- Users say pills make them feel like they’re wrapped up in warm cotton.
- Just as the pills can make physical pain easier to ignore, they can make mental distress seem to lessen.
- Some people feel unusually peppy and happy on opioid drugs.
Most people know that they shouldn’t take oxycodone for pleasure. They may try to hide their habits with language. Instead of admitting that they take oxycodone, they may use slang words. Experts say common slang terms for oxycodone include:
- Hillbilly heroin
Oxycodone Abuse Statistics
Products with oxycodone are often associated with addiction, and there’s a good reason for that. These drugs are both commonly available and very powerful, and the two attributes make them very attractive for people hoping to get high. The research proves it. Among all of the opioids available today, oxycodone is the most closely related to addiction.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has collected data on the connection between oxycodone and addiction. They found that:
- It’s a common drug. In 2016 alone, more than 60 million prescriptions were dispensed.
- Abuse is prevalent. Of the nearly 28 million people who took oxycodone in 2015, more than 4 million abused their drugs.
- It’s expensive to buy. The DEA says the drug sells for about $1 per milligram. That means the popular 40 mg OxyContin tablet costs $40 each.
- People need help. There were more than 17,000 cases reported to American Poison Control Centers in 2016 about oxycodone.
Most people who abuse oxycodone products do so by swallowing their pills. Researchers say about 80 percent of people take the drug this way. They do that because manufacturers have tried to make the drug harder to abuse. It isn’t working.
The faster a drug reaches your brain, the more dangerous it is. Fast movement means big changes and lots of damage. That adds up to a short trip to either overdose or addiction.
Oxycodone products, and OxyContin in particular, were once easy to abuse in a direct-to-the-brain manner. People crushed pills, mixed them with water, and shot the liquid right into their arms. Or they smashed the tablets into powder and sniffed it. The result was a big high in a short timeframe.
Manufacturers tweaked the formulation of OxyContin in 2010 to make it harder to abuse. Researchers say the new formula should:
- Discourage smashing. Pills are thicker and harder to crush.
- Cause pain. When powder from the new pills is snorted, it makes the nose hurt.
- Include tamper resistance. When powder is mixed with water, it forms a thick paste that’s impossible to pull into a needle.
Research published in 2013 suggests that the new pills are working. Abuse of the new oxycodone product was 41 percent lower than historic use, they say.
But people can still find a way to abuse these drugs. They can:
- Take them traditionally. The pills still work well when they’re swallowed.
- Use acids. Soda can bubble the protective coating off the pills. That ensures they can be crushed for snorting or injecting.
- Heat them. Putting pills in the microwave can melt the coating away, which makes the capsules easier to break.
- Use spice mills. Grinding the pills into a powder, coating and all, can make them easier to snort.
Manufacturers wanted to reduce abuse rates. But addiction makes people creative.
Signs of Oxycodone Abuse
Plenty of people have prescriptions for oxycodone products, and they use them as directed for pain control. Some people can and do resist the urge to abuse their drugs and enhance their pain. But people who do develop addictions follow a predictable set of steps and show a similar set of symptoms.
Some of those symptoms concern drug access. Oxycodone is a controlled substance, and it’s not designed for street access. People with addictions get the tablets, experts say, by:
- They steal prescription pads, and they write their own prescriptions for the drugs. They’re sometimes caught at the pharmacy when they attempt to fill these fraudulent orders.
- They steal pills from hospitals, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies. They may swipe pills from friends and family members too.
- Doctor shopping. They head to multiple medical professionals complaining of pain symptoms. Each doctor may write a prescription.
- Illegal purchases. They may have dealers willing to sell them drugs.
All of these outlets are time consuming. Someone with a significant drug habit has little time for anything else, including friends and family members.
Oxycodone is sedating, and while people are high, they may seem sleepy or uncoordinated. When the drugs wear off, they may sweat, pace, and seem agitated.
Some people wear their addictions openly, and you can see them disintegrating before your eyes. They lose their jobs, their relationships, and their dignity very quickly.
But addictions can be insidious. Plenty of people keep their lives together even as drugs tear them apart on the inside. One doesn’t have to hit “rock bottom” with nothing left to lose to be addicted.
Addiction’s influence is persistent. It is not uncommon for people in recovery to talk about cravings for months or even years after the last hit. But treatment can help you understand how to control those cravings without succumbing to them.
Medications play a role in oxycodone abuse treatment. They can keep you from feeling sick as your body adjusts to the lack of addictive substances, and they can ease your cravings so you can stay involved in treatment later on.
The two main medications used in oxycodone treatment (methadone and buprenorphine) are also opioids, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Methadone is a full opioid, and buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. But they both offer a muted impact. Most people on them don’t feel high. They just don’t feel sick and stressed with cravings.
When you’ve been through detox, and your body is free of oxycodone, it’s time to enter rehab. Many programs offer 12-step components. If you’ve ever seen television shows or movies with people talking about their meetings, you’ve been introduced to the concept.
These programs can motivate you to stay in care. They also help connect you with other people in recovery and give you an opportunity to see what success looks like.
You’ll stay in treatment for a long time. Some people spend months in active care. And when it’s through, you may continue to go to meetings in the 12-step model to help you stay connected with sobriety concepts.