Abuse of opioids, a class of chemically-related drugs derived from the poppy plant, has reached epic levels in recent years, with tragic effects on addicts and anyone close to them. Opioids include street drugs such as heroin and many prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, hydrocodone, Vicodin, and fentanyl. Abuse of these prescription drugs began to increase in the late 1990s, as pharmaceutical companies promoted opioid painkillers as an addiction-free method to manage pain. Unfortunately, time has shown that these prescription drugs are just as habit-forming as heroin. Some people become addicted to prescription opioids after using them as a legitimate treatment; others seek them out as a recreational high. One of these painkillers, OxyContin, is one of the most popular drugs of abuse in America today.
OxyContin is the brand name for the generic painkiller oxycodone. Like other opioid painkillers, Oxycontin relieves pain by interfering with the brain’s normal pain pathways. It binds to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to prevent the release of a chemical called GABA. GABA normally regulates dopamine production, so when GABA is blocked, dopamine floods the brain. This combination blocks pain messages to the brain and produces a pleasurable high. The intensity of this high is what makes OxyContin so addictive. Some people purposefully abuse OxyContin in order to achieve that high, but even people who use Oxycontin as directed can quickly become dependent on it. Because OxyContin carries such a strong potential for habit formation, it is critical to take it only when necessary and to follow the doctor’s instructions for timing and dosage.
In contrast to fast-acting medications meant to provide immediate relief, OxyContin was developed as a treatment for chronic pain from conditions such as cancer, surgeries, injuries, or even arthritis. As such, OxyContin is specifically designed to slowly release the drug, providing relief from pain over several hours. People who intentionally abuse OxyContin purposefully interfere with the time-release mechanism by crushing the pills, then snorting or injecting them. This technique allows the OxyContin to reach the brain more quickly, providing a more intense and rapid high, but it is also much more dangerous. Overdose and death from overdose are more likely to occur with this method than when taken orally.
OxyContin Addiction Facts
OxyContin addiction develops when an individual becomes both tolerant to and dependent on OxyContin. Tolerance develops after repeated exposure to OxyContin: the individual will soon require higher and more frequent doses in order to achieve the same effect, whether that is pain management or getting high. Dependence on OxyContin means that the body becomes physically dependent on OxyContin just to function normally. People who are dependent on OxyContin must continue to take it or they will suffer from withdrawal. Side effects of withdrawal include:
- Uncontrollable coughing
- Stomach pain
- Cardiac arrest
People who abuse OxyContin can suffer from a variety of unpleasant side effects. Short term side effects of OxyContin include:
- Depressed breathing
Long term use or abuse furthers these effects and can lead to:
- Hypoxia (reduced oxygen)
- Brain damage from hypoxia
- Bowel problems
- Liver damage or failure
- Kidney damage or failure
- Heart damage
- Chronic constipation
- Narcotic bowel syndrome (nausea, bloating, vomiting, abdominal distention)
- Death from overdose
OxyContin Abuse Statistics
OxyContin abuse statistics and other opioid abuse statistics are staggering. Deaths from opioid overdose have tripled since the year 2000; in 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose, and more than 2 million Americans struggled with substance abuse disorders related to prescription painkillers. Abusing painkillers can be a stepping stone to heroin abuse. Consider the following statistics of addiction from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- Between 21 and 29% of patients with a prescription for opioids for chronic pain misuse them
- Between 8 and 12% develop an opioid abuse disorder
- Between 4 and 6% of people who misuse prescription painkillers transition to heroin use
- 80% of heroin users first misused prescription opioid painkillers
The overall number of prescriptions for OxyContin in America continues to increase each year, rising from 22.8 million in 2006 in 53 million in 2013. OxyContin seems to hold special appeal for young people: in 2013, 9.9% of people ages 18-25 had misused OxyContin, compared to 6% of people 26 and older. One of the most recent studies of drug abuse in America may hold promise, suggesting that opioid abuse among teens is on a downward trend. The federal government’s Monitoring the Future survey, just released in December of 2017, found that 4.2% of high school seniors had misused “narcotics other than heroin,” which is another term for prescription opioids, compared to 9.5% of high school seniors in 2004. These abuse statistics suggest that today’s teens will not struggle as much with opioid addiction, but for those adults who were teens from 2004, the damage may be done. Studies show that opioid abuse during adolescence leads to greater risk of opioid abuse later in life, and according to the CDC, adults ages 25-44, who were teenagers back in the 1990s and 2000s, have a high incidence of opioid-related mortality.
Treatment for OxyContin Addiction
With the proper treatment and support, it is possible to overcome an addiction to OxyContin. Inpatient rehab provides the best chance of a successful recovery. Entering an inpatient treatment program allows the individual to focus completely on recovery and removes any distractions, especially friends who might tempt the patient to use OxyContin again. A typical program begins with detoxification in order to remove all traces of the drug from the body. This will also put the patient into withdrawal, which will be uncomfortable, but in an inpatient setting the withdrawal can be medically monitored by trained professionals. Once the patient has completed detox and withdrawal, he or she can begin working on recovery. This will include therapy and counseling to understand why the person turned to drug abuse in the first place, and learning how to handle life without using drugs. One approach to treating OxyContin addiction is group therapy.
Group therapy is a treatment model that puts anywhere from three to twelve patients together in a group led by a trained therapist. All members struggle with similar issues, so they can provide peer support in a judgement-free zone. The therapist leads the group to give it structure and direction, but members can help each other by sharing information and experiences and to generally build each other up in terms of confidence and self-esteem. Group therapy can also provide addicts in recovery specific training in skills such as:
- How to avoid triggers
- Healthy strategies to handle stress
- How to prevent relapse
- Anger management
- Conflict resolution
- Health and wellness
- Meditation and relaxation
- Healing and trauma
Inpatient rehab may also include individual therapy to help the patient in a more personal and private setting. Family therapy may be helpful to deal with the damaged relationships caused by the drug abuse. Different people may find themselves drawn to other holistic therapies such as:
- Nutritional therapy
- Mindfulness training
- Faith-based rehab
If you or someone you love struggles with OxyContin addiction, call our toll-free number today for help.