Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Oxycodone is a powerful semisynthetic opioid drug that is prescribed to manage pain. It is a prescription painkiller distributed as both a standalone product and a combination product, joined with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
Opioid medications like oxycodone are commonly abused for the euphoric high they can create.
Oxycodone is one of the most commonly diverted pharmaceutical drugs that is encountered by law enforcement, and it has been every year since 2009. In 2020, approximately 3.2 million people in the United States misused oxycodone products.
Oxycodone is a highly addictive opioid drug with a high rate of associated overdose and drug dependence. Addiction to oxycodone is treated through a comprehensive addiction treatment program that includes both behavioral therapies and medications.
Key Facts About Oxycodone Addiction
- Oxycodone is a popular drug of abuse. More than 10 percent of people who report using it misuse the prescription painkiller.
- In 2020, approximately 1.1 percent of the United States population had abused an oxycodone product in the past year.
- Nearly 2.5 million people had an opioid use disorder involving a prescription pain reliever in 2020. Oxycodone is one of the most commonly abused and diverted prescription painkillers.
- In 2020, there were nearly 70,000 opioid-involved overdose deaths in the United States, which accounted for around three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths.
What Is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid drug derived from the opium poppy plant and used as a prescription pain reliever. It is prescribed for the short-term relief of moderate to severe pain in its immediate-release formulation. The extended-release formulation is prescribed to people who need around-the-clock pain relief and to those for whom other methods of pain relief or medications are not working.
Oxycodone comes as a solution, capsule, tablet, or extended-release tablet that is to be taken orally.
Common Oxycodone Drugs
Oxycodone is distributed on its own in both brand-name and generic formulations and also in combination medications. Common drugs that feature oxycodone include the following:
- OxyContin: 10, 20, 40, and 80 mg extended-release oxycodone tablets
- OxyIR: 5 mg immediate-release oxycodone capsule
- Roxicodone: 5, 15, and 30 mg immediate-release oxycodone tablets
- Oxaydo: immediate-release formulation of oxycodone that also contains aversion technology intended to irritate nasal passages if crushed and snorted
- Xtampza ER: extended-release formulation of oxycodone with abuse-deterrent features
- Percodan: oxycodone combined with aspirin
- Roxicet: oxycodone combined with acetaminophen
- Percocet: oxycodone combined with acetaminophen
- Xartemis XR: extended-release formulation of oxycodone combined with acetaminophen
- Tylox: oxycodone combined with acetaminophen
- Endocet: oxycodone combined with acetaminophen
What Are the Common Street Names for Oxycodone?
When diverted, oxycodone goes by many names. Street names of oxycodone include the following:
- Hillbilly heroin
- Perc or Percs
How Does Oxycodone Impact the Mind & Body?
Oxycodone is an opioid drug that binds to natural opioid receptors in the brain. This blocks pain sensations and floods the brain with chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, that signal feelings of pleasure. This creates the euphoric high associated with the drug.
Opioid drugs are extremely habit-forming. Even when used as directed through a valid and necessary prescription, drug dependence can form.
This happens with regular use of the drug, as it can rewire the reward pathways in the brain, changing its chemical makeup and creating a kind of shortcut to happiness. When this happens, it can become difficult to feel pleasure without the medication, and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can occur when the drug processes out of the body.
Oxycodone is a central nervous system depressant drug, which means that it slows down respiration and heart rate while lowering blood pressure and body temperature. The high associated with oxycodone is typically mellow, and drowsiness is often a common side effect of use.
How Addictive Is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone and other opioid drugs are some of the most addictive substances in the world.
Oxycodone products, such as OxyContin, carry black-box warnings about their high potential for misuse, abuse, dependence, and addiction. Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, designated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for its high diversion, abuse, and addiction potential.
Oxycodone makes changes to the chemical makeup of the brain and can actually rewire some of the reward and motivation pathways. This can make it difficult to stop using oxycodone after a period of doing so.
When the drug processes out of the brain and body after drug dependence develops, you can experience difficult emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms that can encourage you to take more of the drug. Because of this, it can be difficult to stop taking it even if you want to.
How to Tell if You Are Addicted to Oxycodone
Oxycodone addiction is classified by compulsive drug use and an inability to stop using the drug even after trying to do so. Addiction often follows recreational drug use and dependence.
Any use of oxycodone outside of a necessary and legitimate prescription is considered drug abuse. This can include taking the drug in a way other than it was prescribed, taking it after a prescription has run out, or taking it without a prescription.
Drug dependence occurs when the brain gets used to the way oxycodone interferes with its chemical makeup. Regular use of oxycodone can cause the system to expect the drug’s interference.
Therefore, the brain will not work quite the same way it did before the drug’s introduction. This can lead to drug cravings, flu-like symptoms, irritability, cognitive issues, and low mood when the drug is not in the body.
If you are addicted to oxycodone, you will feel like you need the drug. You will have a hard time feeling happy or motivated to do things without it.
Much of your time will be spent thinking of ways to get the drug, using it, and recovering from its effects. Other aspects of your life will often take a backseat to oxycodone use. If you are unable to stop taking oxycodone, even if you try to and want to, you are likely addicted to it.
What Are the Causes of Oxycodone Addiction?
Opioid addiction is likely caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Addiction is heritable, meaning that if you have a direct family member with addiction, the risk for you developing addiction is higher.
Biological factors, such as mental health conditions and medical issues, can increase the odds of developing an addiction to oxycodone. For example, the presence of chronic pain and mood disorders can make opioid addiction more likely.
High levels of stress, exposure to trauma (especially childhood trauma), and easy access to opioids can also make opioid addiction more likely to occur. There is not one specific cause for oxycodone addiction. Instead, several factors play a role in its onset.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse & Addiction?
Any use of oxycodone beyond its prescribed and intended use is misuse. Signs of oxycodone abuse include the following:
- Altering the drug, such as chewing it, crushing and snorting it, smoking it, or dissolving and injecting it
- Taking medications in between doses
- Taking more of the drug at a time than prescribed
- Using oxycodone without a valid and necessary prescription
- Exaggerating symptoms to receive more oxycodone than is medically necessary
- Continuing to take oxycodone after there is no medical need for it and the prescription has run out
- “Doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors to try and get more prescriptions for oxycodone
- Intense mood swings
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns and habits
- Decline in work or school performance
- Social changes
Symptoms of addiction to oxycodone include the following:
- Taking more of the drug or taking it for longer than intended
- Multiple unsuccessful attempts to stop taking the drug
- Spending a lot of time thinking about, using, and recovering from the drug
- Difficulties maintaining regular obligations
- Cravings for oxycodone
- Lack of interest in activities that were previously a priority
- Continuing to use oxycodone despite knowing that it will have negative social, physical, or emotional side effects
- Using oxycodone in physically hazardous situations
- Needing to take more oxycodone to feel its effects (tolerance)
- Withdrawal symptoms when oxycodone wears off (dependence)
Mixing Oxycodone With Other Substances
Oxycodone is particularly dangerous when mixed with other substances, especially other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. The risk for a fatal overdose is much higher when oxycodone is combined with other substances, particularly depressant substances.
In 2020, approximately 16 percent of all opioid overdose deaths also involved a benzodiazepine. These two substances mixed together can lead to fatal respiratory depression and the suppression of vital central nervous system functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, bringing them down to dangerously low and life-threatening levels.
Oxycodone can also be very dangerous when mixed with stimulant substances. Oxycodone and cocaine, for example, can have a kind of yo-yo effect. The stimulant properties of cocaine can mask the depressant aspects of oxycodone, which can lead to taking too much of the drug, and this can cause a potentially lethal overdose.
In 2019, close to half of all drug overdoses involved more than one drug.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms From Oxycodone?
Oxycodone withdrawal includes both mental health and physical side effects, which can include the following:
- Low mood and depression
- Trouble focusing and remembering things
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Irregular heart rate and blood pressure
- Muscle cramps, back, and joint pain
- Fever and chills
- Sweating and excessive tearing
- Runny nose
- Drug cravings
- Lack of motivation and trouble feeling pleasure
- Excessive yawning
- Dilated pupils
Can You Overdose on Oxycodone?
Opioid overdose is a serious public health concern in the United States, and 44 people die every day from an overdose involving a prescription opioid.
Oxycodone is particularly hazardous as it can overwhelm the central nervous system and lead to a potentially fatal overdose very quickly. Opioid overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention and intervention.
Oxycodone Overdose Symptoms
Symptoms of an opioid overdose include the following:
- Shallow breathing and breathing difficulties
- Small pupils
- Mental confusion
- Lack of alertness
- Cold and clammy skin with a bluish tinge
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Chest pain and irregular heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unresponsiveness and potential loss of consciousness
Treatment Options for Addiction to Oxycodone
Opioid addiction is a treatable mental health disorder that is best managed through a complete treatment plan that will usually include therapeutic, supportive, and pharmaceutical interventions.
Treatment can be provided in a highly structured inpatient program with continual care and monitoring or in an outpatient program that can be structured around your existing schedule when necessary. A treatment program will often begin with detox that is medically managed to minimize withdrawal symptoms and decrease the likelihood of relapse.
Treatment methods for opioid addiction often includes the following components:
- Medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings
- Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to encourage mindfulness, teach coping strategies, and manage triggers and cravings
- Support groups to build healthy peer connections that can aid recovery efforts
- Group and individual counseling sessions to manage all aspects of drug use and addiction
- Dual diagnosis treatment when needed to help with co-occurring mental health or medical conditions
Opioid addiction treatment can use a variety of methods based on individual needs to foster long-term recovery.
Though oxycodone is a potent drug, and it can lead to severe and long-term addiction, comprehensive treatment can help you achieve sustained recovery. With help, you can leave opioid abuse in the past and embrace a better tomorrow.
Oxycodone. (March 2020). Drug Enforcement Administration.
Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Drug Overdose Deaths Remain High. (June 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
OxyContin. (2021). Purdue Pharma.
List of Controlled Substances. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Opioid Use Disorder. (2022). American Psychiatric Association.
Benzodiazepines and Opioids. (April 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Polysubstance Use Facts. (February 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. (February 2009). American Journal of Public Health.
Likeability and Abuse Liability of Commonly Prescribed Opioids. (December 2012). Journal of Medical Toxicology.
Opioid Data Analysis and Resources. (June 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Table of Contents