Why Oxycodone Has Become a Potent Killer

oxycodone

Oxycodone addiction rates have been rising since the drug first hit the medical circuit.

Indeed, oxycodone is probably the best-known example of the shady side of pharmaceutical companies, as its history has shown.

This drug can prove addictive, fatal, and often leads the user down the path to using traditional hard drugs like opioids.

If you want to learn about the history and risks of this pharmaceutical preparation then you’re in the right place. Read on, and we’ll show you why oxycodone is one of the most dangerous drugs around and just how it got to be this way.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid drug which is commonly used as a painkiller in medical settings.

Opioids are distinct from opiates, although the effects are quite similar. Opiates naturally occur in Papaver somniferum and include the compounds codeine, morphine, and thebaine.

Opioids, on the other hand, can be either fully synthetic or semi-synthetic. In the latter case, these drugs are modified forms of those which are naturally present in the opium poppy. Included in this class is hydrocodone, oxycodone, and heroin.

Oxycodone itself is derived from thebaine which is relatively benign in its natural form.

All of these drugs have two of the same qualities: they’re physically addictive and affect the dopamine system of the brain. Dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters responsible for mood and the reward system within the brain.

Oxycodone has garnered a harsh reputation and it’s well deserved. The truth of the matter is that oxycodone is only as dangerous as any other opioid when taken in equivalent doses, the demonization of the compound has more to do with the company who produced it than with the properties of oxycodone itself.

What Kind of Harm Does Oxycodone Do?

The main risk when someone is using oxycodone is physical dependence. The withdrawal symptoms from opioids are nasty.

Aching joints, nausea, diarrhea, sweating. If it’s included with the flu, then an addicted person is going to really go through it when they cease using the drug. Deaths can rarely occur due to dehydration, but for the most part, this process is just uncomfortable for the patient.

In addition to these physicals symptoms, there are mental symptoms as well. These can include anhedonia, depression, and anxiety.

That’s on top of the overpowering craving for the drug itself.

Physical addiction to a compound creates a feedback cycle. Even if someone wants to quit, it’s often easier to simply keep using in order to avoid being sick.

The main advantage for those who are using pharmaceutical preparations as their drug of choice is that they’re predictable in their effects. The dose is measured, there’s no cut, and the risks which plague heroin users like fentanyl-laced products aren’t a concern.

Unfortunately, they’re also seen as safer by many drug users.

The risks are high. Like all other opioids, oxycodone can cause lowered blood pressure, respiratory depression, and a slowed heart rate.

While single drug overdoses do occur with oxycodone, the vast majority of overdoses which occur come from mixing depressants. Other common recreational drugs, like alcohol and benzodiazepines, produce an exponential effect which can easily lead to the death of the user.

On top of that, no one really starts with heroin when they become an opioid user.

The rising black market prices of pharmaceuticals have created their own problems. Roughly 4% to 6% of those who abuse pain medications will end up switching to heroin since it is cheaper.

Of course, those painkillers could have been hydrocodone, codeine, or any other of the vast pharmacopeia of opiates and opioids used by doctors. There is a reason why oxycodone has garnered such a harsh reputation, however.

How is Oxycodone Taken?

There are two main formulations which contain oxycodone prescribed.

The first is an oxycodone/acetaminophen preparation which is sold under the brand name Percocet. These can contain up to 10mg of oxycodone each and don’t have any sort of time release.

While there’s some evidence that acetaminophen is synergistic with opioids, the main use seems to have been for anti-abuse purposes. The threshold for acetaminophen dosage is around 4 grams per day. Otherwise, liver damage can occur.

It also prevents being able to inject the drug once dissolved and makes snorting it more difficult as the active ingredients are “fluffed” with binders and acetaminophen to make a larger pill.

The other preparation is the one which gets most of the attention. Known under the brand name Oxycontin, these pills come in dosages of up to 80mg and release over the course of a day.

Oxycontin has changed preparation several times. The original form of the drug was relatively easy to clean for alternative methods of taking it. Injection, insufflation, and smoking were all common methods to use for those who were abusing oxycodone.

The current state of the continuous release preparations makes the drug much harder to abuse with alternative routes of administration but determined addicts have still found ways to work around the safeguards put in place.

More than that, it appears the safeguards haven’t done much to curb the death rate attributed to opioids as a whole. Instead, more users just switch to heroin as time goes on.

This often results in furthering addiction and all of the problems which come with it. At some point, most opioid addicts who seek treatment will end up in a residential treatment facility due to the extreme addiction potential of opioids.

Purdue’s Deadly Marketing

When oxycodone first reached the US marketplace it was aggressively marketed.

Purdue Pharmaceuticals ended up holding the US patent for the drug in the mid-1990s despite the fact that the drug was originally developed in 1916. Specifically, they held the patents for a continuous release version of the drug in doses up to 80mg.

A 160mg pill was also included in the line-up originally, but was discontinued shortly after release.

What followed was a textbook example of what can happen when drugs are being marketed.

Purdue produced misleading studies about the addictiveness of the drug. Like heroin before it, Oxycontin was marketed as a non-addictive, safer alternative to drugs like morphine.

It turned into a huge hit, producing over $35 billion for Purdue in a short period of time.

While not solely responsible for the opioid epidemic, Purdue’s marketing campaign was filled with misinformation even as evidence amounted that the studies they were using to promote the drug were erroneous.

The campaign to promote the drug has two major distinctions: it’s one of the most effective pharmaceutical marketing campaigns of all time and it had a major hand in the current opioid epidemic that is sweeping the US.

Their argument hinged on the fact that a time-released preparation would be less prone to abuse. There was no scientific evidence for this at the time the drug was being marketed.

Pill Mills and Doctor Shopping

Where there is demand for something, people will inevitably seek to supply it. While diversion of pills from prescribed users was a common method of acquiring them, there were also less scrupulous doctors who ran “pill mills.”

Pill mills are clinics that often operate under the guise of specializing in pain management. In most cases, they only accept cash payments and aren’t exactly discerning about who gets their pills.

Most of these clinics specialize in prescribing pain medications and in some cases even have an on-site pharmacy.

Basically, they’re doctors dealing drugs. While there has been some crackdown, there’s always someone else out to make a quick dollar and they haven’t been entirely stamped out just yet.

Pill mills became the gold standard of getting opioid preparations for both addicts and dealers. In some cases, people would go to multiple states, filling multiple prescriptions, in order to acquire a larger supply.

Pill mills are only prevalent in some parts of the country. Shifty doctors can be found anywhere, but dedicated facilities are only common in some parts of the country.

Instead, many addicts will seek out multiple doctors to get their prescriptions. This practice is known as doctor shopping and it is common in areas where pill mills aren’t available.

There was an abrupt shift towards opioid use for pain management in the late 1990s. This means a dedicated addict can generally find their prescription sooner or later by simply stating that they are in some sort of pain, because pain isn’t really quantifiable, so the doctors are likely to give in to their requests and supply them the pills.

Killing Users and Breaking Families

If you’re living in the United States, then you’re likely aware of the opioid epidemic.

Currently, overdose is the leading cause of death for those from 18 to 55. The primary culprits are polydrug abuse including pharmaceutical preparations and the practice of lacing heroin with fentanyl and other analogs.

Even for those who manage to not overdose, there are serious repercussions.

It’s been said that addiction is the only disease which affects the whole family. Quite often a person will display absolute recklessness and disregard for others while engaged in drug seeking behaviors.

Active addiction is a mess for everyone involved. Criminal activity, risky lifestyles, and erratic behavior don’t just hurt the addict but everyone close to them as well.

Often this leads to isolation of the addict as their behavior worsens until they’re not only contending with the physical withdrawal of the drug but also the consequences of their actions once they enter withdrawal.

It’s an endless cycle for the addict and one which many are desperate to escape.

Entering Treatment

There’s a common perception that rehab “fixes” addiction.

That’s not quite true. Instead, going through rehabilitation gives a person a fighting chance to stay clean from their drug of choice. It’s still up to the addict themselves to follow directions and keep away.

Treatment is a multi-stage process for the serious addict.

The first thing which needs to be done is to go through a detox program. A medically assisted detox will lighten withdrawal symptoms and keep a person in a safe environment during the first stage of getting clean.

Following this, a patient will often enroll in either an outpatient program or an inpatient rehabilitation process. Within these programs, a person will be given the tools to understand and fight their addiction.

Rehab programs focus on providing both information and structure for their patients. Many addicts have gone so far down the rabbit hole that they rarely do anything other than getting high and seek drugs. Structure is the key to getting one’s life back.

If you or a loved one are entering treatment, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only the first step in a lifelong journey to staying clean. Many people will go through more than one program before they “get it” and manage to stay clean.

The important thing is to remember that there is hope. Every day people manage to get through treatment and stay sober.

Some people attempt to kick at home on their own, which isn’t the best way to do things. Someone who has been using oxycodone for years is going to go through intense withdrawals physically and mentally. The cravings can often overwhelm someone with an earnest desire to get clean in a non-medical setting.

Afterward, the focus shifts to the maintenance of sobriety and preventing relapse. This is where the addict’s real work begins.

Is It Time for Detox?

If you or a loved one are addicted to oxycodone, then perhaps it’s time to make a change. The life of an addict is hollow and hopeless, but with the right assistance, even the worst addiction can be changed.

The key is in the assistance. Detoxing in a medical facility will keep you comfortable and in a controlled environment, and rehabilitation programs can give you the insight and tools needed to keep you clean.

If you’re considering making a major change in your life or that of a loved one, contact us today and learn how our detox facility can help you.

Article Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.