Originally the drug 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 is a long-acting pain pill, designed to be taken every 10–12 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 tinfoil. 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 instead.
As described in a 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
In Feb 2018, Purdue announced they are no longer marketing OxyContin to doctors in the US, and are turning their focus to promoting non-opioid products.2
What Is Oxycontin Used for?
OxyContin is a sustained-release form of hydrocodone, used for the relief of moderate to severe pain. Originally the drug was marketed with a focus on relieving chronic pain of cancer patients, until the manufacturer broadened their market targets to include non-cancer-related pain, claiming the drug presented extremely low-risk for addiction.
Early in 2018, amid plunging drug sales, Purdue Pharmaceuticals announced it was cutting its sales staff by half, and would no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers.2
In 2010, Purdue changed the molecular structure so that OxyContin was no longer able to be dissolved for injection or for snorting/inhaling. Despite these changes, the drug has continued to be abused, resulting in 64,000 deaths in 2016 alone.
In 2018, the CDC published a new guide for prescribing opioid drugs in an attempt to turn the tide, giving more clear guidelines to physicians prescribing drugs like OxyContin, hydrocodone or other opioid-based medications.3
Oxycontin Alternative Names and Slang
Through diversion, OxyContin rapidly became a popularized street drug with many slang names, such as:
- Hillbilly heroin
- Rich man’s heroin
Oxycontin Side Effects
OxyContin produces an exhilarating euphoric effect, along with the following less pleasant side effects:
- Slowed respiration, difficulty breathing
- Weak pulse, slowed circulation
- Inability to feel pain, numbness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Stomach pain, abdominal cramps
- Appetite loss
- Itching, rash
- Dizziness, lightheaded feeling
- Low blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Profuse sweating
Oxycontin Withdrawal Symptoms
Quitting Oxycontin can be excruciating and difficult to bear without assistance; stopping 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.
Severe withdrawals are strong drivers of continuing addiction and dependence.
Some of the withdrawals from OxyContin:
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle cramps, aches, pains
- Bone pain
- Runny nose, tearing eyes
- Restless legs, restlessness
- Goosebumps on the skin
- Clammy skin
- General malaise
The half-life of continuous release hydrocodone 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, to dampen the severity of discomfort. Acute withdrawal is considered a condition needing immediate clinical assistance, 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 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. The Alternative to Meds Center offers a wide range of educational and other resources in this area to assist clients seeking success in recovery.