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Basic Facts About OxyContin

A Highly Addictive Prescription Drug


Updated June 20, 2014

The prescription medicine OxyContin is displayed August 21, 2001 at a Walgreens drugstore in Brookline, MA.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Oxycontin is the time-release form of oxycodone, usually prescribed for chronic and severe pain. Because it contains a larger amount of oxycodone, it has become one of the most abused prescription drugs in the United States.

Street Names

Some of the street names for OxyContin include Oxy, O.C., killer and hillbilly heroin.

What is Oxycontin?

OxyContin is a semi synthetic opioid analgesic prescribed for chronic or long-lasting pain. The active ingredient is oxycodone, which is also found in drugs like Percodan and Tylox. OxyContin can contain between 10 and 160 milligrams of oxycodone in a timed-release tablet, compared to five milligrams in Tylox.

How Is OxyContin Used?

Generally, OxyContin is prescribed to be taken twice a day, a benefit over other pain-relieving medications that have to be taken several times a day. It is usually prescribed to help patients with chronic pain, such as back and neck pain, as well as to cancer patients to help them decrease pain and improve function.

How Is OxyContin Abused?

OxyContin abusers either crush the tablet and ingest or snort it or they dilute it in water and inject it. Crushing or diluting the tablet disarms the timed-release action of the medication, but crushing OxyContin in this way can give the user a potentially fatal dose.

What Are the Effects of OxyContin?

Under prescribed dosage, OxyContin is an effective pain reliever, but when crushed and snorted or injected, the drug produces a quick and powerful "high" that some abusers compare to the feeling they get when doing heroin. The NIDA reports that in some areas of the country, OxyContin abuse rates are actually higher than heroin abuse.

Because OxyContin, like heroin and other opioids, is a central nervous system depressant, and overdose can cause respiratory failure and death. Some symptoms of OxyContin overdose include:

  • Slow breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Small pupils
  • Reduced vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Clouding of mental functions

Is OxyContin Addictive?

Like all opioids, OxyContin is potentially highly addictive. Even pain patients who use the drug as prescribed are advised not to suddenly stop taking OxyContin, but gradually reduce the dosage to avoid withdrawal symptoms. However, very few people who take OxyContin as prescribed ever become addicted to the drug.

Abusers of the drug, who take higher than prescribed dosage, can develop a tolerance for OxyContin which can cause them to take ever-increasing larger amounts to achieve the same effect. They can become addicted or dependent on the drug quickly.

OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms

OxyContin withdrawal symptoms can include: Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after the last dose and can last up to one week. People who have gone through OxyContin withdrawal compare the process to the intensity of heroin withdrawal.

Do you think you may need treatment for drug abuse? Take the Drug Abuse Treatment Screening Quiz to find out.

See Also The Health Effects of Other Drugs

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
National Drug Intelligence Center
National Institute on Drug Abuse

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