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Oxycodone Abuse, Signs, Symptoms

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opiate drug that is prescribed primarily for treating pain. It is most commonly prescribed in the form of OxyContin, a name-brand drug that releases oxycodone in time-release tablet form. Other drugs that contain a relatively small amount of oxycodone include Percocet, Percodan and Tylox.

Like all opiate drugs, oxycodone is created from the alkaloids found in opium poppies. The wider category of opioids includes both opiates as well as synthetic compounds that are chemically similar to opiates. Other notable opiates include the illegal drug heroin and the prescription pain relief drug morphine.

Tolerance and Addiction

Oxycodone is chemically similar to heroin, and large, rapidly absorbed doses of oxycodone can cause a euphoric high that is close to what heroin users experience. This intoxicating high is what encourages many people to abuse oxycodone, once or repeatedly. Repeated exposure to this chemical rush can alter brain chemistry and result in addiction.

However, individuals contemplating taking oxycodone for pain treatment should not confuse tolerance with addiction. Users who take oxycodone for chronic pain will often experience decreased effectiveness after a time, as the body becomes tolerant of the original dosage. They will need to increase the dose of oxycodone in order to achieve the same level of pain relief. This does not mean that they are addicted, or are more likely to become addicted after their dosage goes up.

Even so, tolerance can create problems that may lead patients to use their drug improperly. Some users with long-term severe pain may not realize that tolerance is natural, and feel that they need to resort to illegal means to obtain more oxycodone. Users who try to stop taking oxycodone abruptly may experience some withdrawal symptoms even though they are not addicted to the drug.

The risk of addiction becomes significant when users take more than the prescribed dosage of oxycodone, or take steps to circumvent the slow-release nature of OxyContin tablets.

OxyContin tablets are designed to dissolve slowly after being swallowed, providing steady pain relief for up to 12 hours. Although the levels of oxycodone in each tablet are high, the drug is not released into the system rapidly enough or at high enough levels for users to get high. By chewing oxycodone tablets, crushing the tablets into powder and snorting it, or dissolving the tablets and injecting the solution, users can cause the drug to take full effect almost immediately.

Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse

There are various signs that oxycodone users are abusing the drug. Using the drug improperly can result in a euphoric high, which should not occur when the drug is used in a controlled way. It will also result in drowsiness and sedation, and can even cause users to fall asleep.

Oxycodone abuse can result in various gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and constipation. Other unpleasant symptoms include headaches, dry mouth, low blood pressure, itchy skin, lightheadedness, sweating, constricted pupils and respiratory trouble. Oxycodone also comes with a high risk of overdose, since those who abuse it will need progressively higher doses to achieve the same result. Dilated pupils are one classic sign of an oxycodone overdose, although unusually constricted pupils can accompany regular abuse.

Users who become dependent on oxycodone will also exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they are unable to obtain their usual dose of the drug. Withdrawal can bring muscle and bone pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, restlessness, depression, insomnia, chills and sweating.

When individuals become addicted to oxycodone, they are likely to exhibit drug-seeking behavior in order to feed their need for the drug. They may visit multiple doctors and try to get more than one prescription for oxycodone. Users who become desperate for the drug may purchase it from illegal dealers, or even resort to stealing it—often from family or friends who have their own prescriptions.

People dealing with oxycodone addiction may also steal money or objects in order to be able to pay for their habit. They may begin to neglect their personal health, skip work or perform at a lower level and struggle to meet their personal obligations.

Posted on January 24, 2014 and modified on April 26, 2019

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