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Oxycontin Alternatives, Side Effects, Withdrawal and FAQs

OxyContin (hydrocodone) is a pain reliever for moderate to severe pain. This Schedule IV narcotic is an opioid analgesic medication prescribed for adults and children 11 years and older. Due to risk of overdose, the tablets should never be cut, crushed or chewed but should be swallowed intact. As of Feb 2018, Purdue Pharma no longer markets OxyContin to doctors in the US.
OxyContin (hydrocodone) is a potent opioid that has generated grave public concerns. Drug maker Purdue Pharmaceuticals has come under fire for initially under-representing the addictiveness of the continuous release hydrocodone pills.

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:

  • Oxy
  • 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, difficult 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

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.

Here are some of the withdrawals from OxyContin:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramps, aches, pains
  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose, tearing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Restless legs, restlessness
  • Goosebumps on the skin
  • Clammy skin
  • Headache
  • General malaise

Discontinuing/Quitting Oxycontin

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 extinction phase, the abstinent user will experience episodic cravings, often concurrent with triggers or “cues” in the environment.
PAWs or post-acute withdrawal syndrome: PAWS is a term that refers to the onset of symptoms similar to those experienced in acute withdrawal, but that happen after the acute withdrawal phase has passed. PAWS symptoms, sometimes referred to as “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 practicing 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 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.

Oxycontin FAQs

OxyContin has many generic equivalents that are still being marketed, despite Purdue’s plan to stop marketing their brand from their wide arsenal of pharmaceutical products. Hydrocodone in continuous release form will remain an available pain medication, but needs to be more thoroughly understood to reduce user risks.

Below are some other topics of interest regarding OxyContin or its equivalents.

Is Oxycontin an Opioid?

Yes. Oxycontin is an opioid drug, the main ingredient of which is hydrocodone. Hydrocodone 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.

Treatment for Oxycontin 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.

Opiates such as OxyContin are able to mimic natural endorphins, and as such, are called synthetic analogues. A synthetic analogue replaces its natural equivalent which signals the body to stop 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.

However, when the drug is withdrawn, 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 address these challenges to make the process much easier to withstand, and to complete without undue suffering. 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.

The Alternative to Meds Center provides treatment for recovery from opiate addiction or dependence, using 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 opiate 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 holistic protocols. Our programs are designed to accelerate real healing, to help you or your loved one achieve sustainable freedom from addiction to opiates.

  1. National Library of Medicine “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy” (Art Van Zee, MD) Feb 2009, accessed Oct 23, 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622774/
  2. Healthline Article Is OxyContin Losing its Lustre? (Gigen Mammoser) Feb 21, 2018 accessed Oct 23, 2018   https://www.healthline.com/health-news/oxycontin-losing-its-luster#1
  3. CDC “Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain Factsheet “ (n.d.) accessed Oct 23, 2018 https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/guidelines_factsheet-a.pdf
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica Enkephalins (n.d.) accessed Oct 23, 2018
  5. Elsevier 2007 (Robert G. Carroll) accessed Oct 23, 2018 Elsevier’s Integrated Physiology
  6. US Pharmacist publication Acute Opioid Withdrawal: Identification and Treatment Strategies” Nov 17, 2016 (Leesa M Prunty PharmD, BCPS), (Jeremy J Prunty, PharmD, BCPS) accessed Oct 25 2018 https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/acute-opioid-withdrawal-identification-and-treatment-strategies
  7. SAMHSA Advisory July 2010 Protracted Withdrawalaccessed Oct 25, 2018 https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA10-4554/SMA10-4554.pdf
  8. University of Wisconsin Paper “Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome” (n.d.) accessed Oct 25, 2018 https://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/psychiatry/7228.pdf  

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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