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Oxycontin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering

Last Updated on August 17, 2022 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

OxyContin© (continuous-release oxycodone) was a brand name for a pain reliever prescribed for moderate to severe pain. This opioid analgesic medication was prescribed to millions of adults and children around the world from 1995 to 2020. Due to its part in the opioid crisis that erupted in the last nearly 2 decades, Purdue came under fire for fraudulently advertising Oxycontin as a non-addictive pain pill. 
OxyContin (continuous-release oxycodone) was a dangerously potent opioid that generated grave public concerns. Drugmaker Purdue Pharmaceuticals came under fire for initially under-representing the drug’s extremely severe risk of addiction and has been bankrupted by lawsuits. 
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Oxycontin Withdrawal Symptoms

Quitting Oxycontin could be described as excruciating, especially without assistance. Opioid withdrawal can be severe, and life-threatening. Stopping opiates abruptly is not advised. After the last dose is taken, withdrawals may begin anywhere from 6 to 30 hours later, depending on various factors. For instance, if the drug was crushed, bypassing the continuous release effect, withdrawals may begin within four to six hours. If taken intact, withdrawals may begin considerably later, due to the long-acting effects.9

Severe withdrawals are strong drivers of continuing addiction and dependence.

Oxycontin withdrawals can include:
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramps, aches, pains
  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Severe depression
  • Runny nose, tearing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Restless legs, restlessness
  • Goosebumps on the skin
  • Clammy skin
  • Headache
  • General malaise
Originally Oxycontin© was aggressively marketed as a non-addictive pain killer, making the manufacturers a killing in sales profits. Doctors began over-prescribing OxyContin, which resulted in the opioid crisis erupting across the US, which is still plaguing the country today.

Before deciding to start or stop a drug, it is well worth finding out as much as possible about side effects and withdrawals and other important pieces of information, so a person can make the best choices for their own health.

OxyContin was a long-acting pain pill, designed to be taken every 10 to 12 hours for extended pain relief. When used recreationally, there is a high risk of overdose and death if the tablets are taken more frequently, or are crushed, chewed, or otherwise tampered with. Recreational use can include crushing and snorting the drug, dissolving and injecting it, or crushing and smoking it off tin foil. As the number of deaths from abuse began to soar, Purdue changed how the drug was manufactured; making it harder to abuse OxyContin in these ways. Unfortunately and as a result, many of those addicted began turning to heroin, a cheaper drug with similar properties.

As described in an NIMH article from 2009,

“The promotion and marketing of Oxycontin was a commercial triumph,” and a “public tragedy,” when OxyContin sales had skyrocketed into the billions and the drug became the #1 drug of abuse in America, along with becoming the most lethal prescription drug in the country, resulting in thousands upon thousands of deaths.1

What was Oxycontin Used for?

OxyContin is a sustained-release form of oxycodone, the immediate-release form of the drug. Oxycodone, like hydrocodone, is a semi-synthetic derivative of opium used in the production of morphine and other opioids. Molecularly, oxycodone and hydrocodone are quite similar.10,11 Oxycodone was prescribed for the relief of moderate to severe pain. Originally, Oxycontin was fraudulently marketed as a non-addictive painkiller, with a focus on relieving chronic pain of cancer patients, until the manufacturer broadened their market targets to include non-cancer-related pain.

The Purdue pharmaceutical company which manufactured Oxycontin for 20 years, has now gone bankrupt after being hit with a $6 Billion fine for its harmful product and the fraudulent marketing practices that went on for decades of enormous profits and an unprecedented wake of deaths that the drug caused over the years.2

After years of opioid deaths skyrocketing, Purdue was compelled to change the molecular structure so that OxyContin was no longer able to be dissolved for injection or for snorting/inhaling. Despite these changes, the drug continued on its killing spree for the next decade, resulting in hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths in the US and around the world from unintentional opioid poisoning. 

Currently, there are either patents or pending applications for patents on generic continuous release oxycodone formulations from other pharmaceutical companies, such as TEVA, which produced a 2-week clinical trial on a cohort of 155 patients, in its application and claims their products to be tamper-proof. It seems the drug regulators don’t really want the opioid nightmare to end.13

In 2018, the CDC published a new guide for prescribing opioid drugs in what can only be described as damage control, giving more clear guidelines to physicians prescribing drugs like OxyContin©, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, or other opioid-based medications.3,12

Oxycontin Alternative Names and Slang

Through diversion, OxyContin rapidly became a popularized street drug with many slang names, such as:

  • Oxy
  • OCs
  • Hillbilly heroin
  • Rich man’s heroin
  • Killer
  • Kickers

Oxycontin Side Effects

OxyContin produces an exhilarating euphoric effect, along with the following less pleasant side effects:

  • Slowed respiration, difficulty breathing
  • Weakness
  • Weak pulse, slowed circulation
  • Inability to feel pain, numbness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Stomach pain, abdominal cramps
  • Constipation
  • Appetite loss
  • Headache
  • Itching, rash
  • Dizziness, lightheaded feeling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Profuse sweating

Discontinuing/Quitting Oxycontin, Info on Oxycontin Withdrawal

The half-life of continuous release oxycodone as in OxyContin is approximately four to six hours. Several different phases of withdrawals are identified for treatment in a clinical setting:

Acute withdrawal:  Abruptly stopping an opiate such as OxyContin produces the set of withdrawals discussed earlier in the “Withdrawal Symptoms” section. Acute withdrawal is generally referred to as simply “withdrawal” and can be mitigated by bridge medications such as methadone or Suboxone, or in the case of newborn infants born to opioid-dependent mothers, morphine can be used to dampen the severity of discomfort. Acute withdrawal is considered a condition needing immediate clinical assistance, beginning around 8 to 12 hours after the last dose, or considerably sooner if the drug was crushed and snorted or injected, and lasting anywhere from 4 to 21 days or longer.6

Protracted withdrawal:  After acute withdrawal, protracted withdrawal describes the symptoms similar to those experienced in acute withdrawal but lasting for a longer period of time, i.e., more than 21 days. Because of the adaptive changes in the CNS from opiate use, these symptoms can persist for weeks or months after abstinence from opioids. In addition to physical symptoms, psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, emotional blunting, dysphoria, problems making decisions, etc. can persist for months without support or treatment.7

Extinction phase:  Following protracted withdrawal, the next phase of withdrawal is called the extinction phase which can last months or longer. In the extinction phase, the abstinent user will experience cravings, “out of the blue,” or concurrent with triggers or “cues” in the environment.
Withdrawal “aftershocks” may come out of the blue and may be mild, moderate, or intense. If ignored, this phenomenon can lead to relapse. Relapse prevention training is one method to prepare in advance so this phenomenon does not unduly surprise a person attempting successful abstinence.8

A wealth of pragmatic information exists that can help in managing all of the above phases of opioid withdrawal. It is possible to gain a deeper understanding of how to assist the body to transition back to normalcy after the alterations and adaptations of addiction. Repairing neurochemistry can be greatly assisted using targeted nutrition from the diet as well as supplementation which can provide the nutritive precursors that may accelerate the repair of natural chemistry in the body. Lifestyle changes may also play a significant role in managing sustainable sobriety. Alternative to Meds Center offers a wide range of educational and other resources in this area to assist clients seeking success in recovery.

Oxycontin Withdrawal and Addiction FAQs

Is Oxycontin now off the market?

OxyContin was a trademark name for a continuous or extended-release form of oxycodone. Since Purdue went bankrupt, they can no longer market Oxycontin. However, the generic drug oxycodone has many extended-release equivalents that are marketed or are seeking approval for sale, despite Purdue’s bankruptcy. Oxycodone (immediate-release) is still an available pain medication used in such formulations as Percocet©. All such drugs need to be more thoroughly understood to reduce user risks.

Spoiler title
Yes. Oxycontin is an opioid drug, the main ingredient of which is oxycodone. Oxycodone is derived or synthesized from opium poppies. Any such drug is correctly called an opioid substance or an opiate drug. The terms opioid and opiate are interchangeable.

Does Chronic Opiate Use Cause Tolerance?

Yes, whether prescribed or used recreationally, chronic or regular opiate use lessens the effects over time and encourages the user to take higher doses or use more frequently.14

What does Schedule 2 Mean?

Schedule 2 is a classification used to categorize drugs that are considered dangerous, with a severe risk of addiction, whether prescribed or obtained illegally. Schedule 2 drugs include cocaine, methamphetamines, Ritalin, Adderall, and opiates such as oxycodone.15

Treatment for Oxycontin Withdrawal, Abuse and Addiction

The body has its own natural pharmacy, producing pain-killing chemicals known as endorphins and enkephalins.4,5

Opiate drug use renders the body less able to create these important hormones, and recovery includes coaxing the body back to being able to produce them in sufficient quantity for optimum health, which includes defense against pain. Persisting depression and other mental disorders are some consequences that occur after prolonged opiate use.

Opiates such as OxyContin are able to mimic natural endorphins, and as such, are called synthetic analogs. A synthetic analog replaces its natural equivalent which signals the body to stop the production of the natural chemical.

As a secondary response, the body also creates more opioid receptors, as a survival mechanism; pain is a vital signal that is necessary for the body to send the correct active chemicals where they are needed and there is a strong innate impulse for the body to keep these receptors functioning.

oxycontin withdrawalHowever, during oxycontin withdrawal, these receptors are also left bereft of natural pain-killing chemicals, though also broadcasting a high volume of pain signals throughout the entire central nervous system, and no defense is immediately available. This is one reason why quitting a drug such as OxyContin is so uncomfortable, and why the withdrawals can be so excruciatingly painful. The Alternative to Meds Center opiate withdrawal protocols addresses these challenges to make the process much easier to withstand and to complete without undue suffering. Orthomolecular medicine provides a therapeutic nutritional approach to addiction recovery. Many other facets of the program include counseling, life coaching, and cleansing accumulations of neurotoxic chemicals from the body. These therapies all enhance the overall process of becoming free of drugs or medication and improving mental health naturally.

Alternative to Meds Center provides treatment for recovery from opiate addiction or dependence, using a wide range of protocols that are designed to help the body replenish its own natural stores of endorphins and enkephalins. There is much more information about alternative approaches to oxycontin withdrawal and other addiction treatment available on our alternative treatment page.

Please contact us for more information about Alternative to Meds Center programs and find out more about our protocols used in holistic detox and holistic pain management. Our oxycontin withdrawal programs are designed to accelerate real healing and to help you or your loved one achieve sustainable freedom from addiction to opiates.


1. Van Zee A. The promotion and marketing of oxycontin: commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009 Feb;99(2):221-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.131714. Epub 2008 Sep 17. PMID: 18799767; PMCID: PMC2622774. [cited 2022 Aug 15]

2. Dhalla IA, Mamdani MM, Sivilotti ML, Kopp A, Qureshi O, Juurlink DN. Prescribing of opioid analgesics and related mortality before and after the introduction of long-acting oxycodone. CMAJ. 2009 Dec 8;181(12):891-6. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.090784. Epub 2009 Dec 7. PMID: 19969578; PMCID: PMC2789126. [cited 2022 Aug 15]

3. CDC “Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain Factsheet“ (n.d.) [cited 2022 Aug 15]

4. Encyclopedia Britannica "Enkephalins" (n.d.) [cited 2022 Aug 15]

5. “Elsevier” 2007 Robert G. Carroll) [accessed 2018 Oct 23] Elsevier's Integrated Physiology [cited 2022 Aug 15]

6. US Pharmacist publication “Acute Opioid Withdrawal: Identification and Treatment Strategies” 2016 Nov 17 (Leesa M Prunty PharmD, BCPS), (Jeremy J Prunty, PharmD, BCPS) [cited 2022 Aug 15]

7. Satel SL, Kosten TR, Schuckit MA, Fischman MW. "Should protracted withdrawal from drugs be included in DSM-IV?" Am J Psychiatry. 1993 May;150(5):695-704. doi: 10.1176/ajp.150.5.695. PMID: 8097618. [cited 2022 Aug 15]

8. Kosten TR, George TP. The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment.Sci Pract Perspect. 2002;1(1):13-20. doi:10.1151/spp021113 [cited 2022 Aug 15]

9. Shah M, Huecker MR. Opioid Withdrawal. [Updated 2022 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/ [cited 2022 Aug 15]

10. PubChem Fact Sheet Oxycodone [cited 2022 Aug 15]

11. PubChem Hydrocodone [cited 2022 Aug 15]

12. PubDhem Codeine [cited 2022 Aug 15]

13. NIH Oxycontin (new drug patent application) and drug label information Oxycontin published Oct 2021 [cited 2022 Aug 15]

14. DOJ Oxycontin Fast Facts Information sheet [cited 2022 Aug 15]

15. DEA Drug Scheduling [cited 2022 Aug 15]


Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.

 

Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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Oxycontin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering
Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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