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OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin is an opioid painkiller designed to ease short-term discomfort after surgeries, bone breaks, and dental extractions. If you’re hurt and can’t function due to the discomfort, a short course of OxyContin could help you get back on your feet again.

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But OxyContin is closely tied to America’s opioid overdose crisis. Far too many people start using this drug for pain and develop substance abuse problems. Understanding those risks can help you determine if this medication is right for your pain. 

What Is OxyContin?

OxyContin is a prescription opioid painkiller. Each pill contains oxycodone wrapped in a coating to slow its release into the bloodstream. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first OxyContin products in 1995.[1]

When OxyContin entered the painkiller market, the manufacturer promoted the drug aggressively. Doctors were encouraged to give the medication to all of their uncomfortable patients, and legal changes made prescribing easier.[2] 

As research about OxyContin highlighted just how dangerous this drug can be, doctors stopped prescribing it so freely. But at that point, many people were already addicted to the drug. 

People may hide OxyContin abuse for years, and they may drain their bank accounts, lose jobs, and face other serious consequences for their use. And some transition to more dangerous drugs (like heroin) to keep up their addictions.

Key Facts About OxyContin

Key Facts

  • OxyContin is a Schedule II substance per the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs like this have a high potential for abuse.[3]
  • OxyContin withdrawal symptoms can appear within 8 to 24 hours after the last dose.[4]
  • More than 85% of heroin users abused opioid painkillers like OxyContin first.[5]
  • About 2.5 billion OxyContin pills were produced between 2006 and 2012.[6]

Medical Uses: Why Is It Prescribed?

OxyContin is FDA-approved for around-the-clock control of moderate or severe pain.[7] Higher doses are appropriate for people who have used opioid painkillers before. Typically, doctors start with the smallest dose that works to keep you comfortable. 

OxyContin Dosages

All OxyContin formulations are designed for extended-release. You take them on a schedule set by your doctor, and the medication slowly enters your bloodstream.

Multiple forms of extended-release tablets exist, including these:[8]

  • 10mg
  • 15mg
  • 20mg
  • 30mg
  • 40mg
  • 60mg
  • 80mg

OxyContin’s manufacturer offered stronger pills until 2001. When abuse reports surfaced and the company came under pressure for rising addiction rates, officials pulled these stronger formulations.[8]

Addiction Potential: How Addictive Is OxyContin?

OxyContin is a Schedule II opioid painkiller with a high substance abuse potential. The drug’s strength, combined with its 12-hour, slow-release design, make it very dangerous. 

Oxycodone in OxyContin latches to opioid receptors within the brain, triggering euphoria and relaxation. With repeated use, brain cells won’t produce critical neurotransmitters without drugs. People feel sick without them, and they lose control of their drug use. 

Methods of Abuse

Some people who misuse OxyContin don’t want to wait for the drug to be slowly released throughout the body. Instead, they use innovative methods to circumvent the drug’s manufacturer and allow all of the power in a pill to hit their bodies at once. 

They may do the following:[5,8]

  • Chew: Rather than swallowing the pill whole, they may crush it between their teeth, circumventing the time-release aspects. 
  • Snort: They may crush the pill between spoons and snort the powder. 
  • Inject: They may combine crushed pills with water and use needles to push the solutions into their bodies. 
  • Inhale: They may heat up a tablet on a piece of foil and inhale the vapors. 

Manufacturers look for ways to keep people from tampering with drugs. Some OxyContin formulations are hard to crush, and others turn into goo when mixed with water. Formulations like this can encourage people to switch to other opioid-like drugs, including heroin.

But some people process their OxyContin doses too fast, leading to withdrawal symptoms between doses. That cycle of highs and lows can quickly lead to addiction. 

The first six hours, it is awesome,” said Burgess MacNamara. Then the effect began to “teeter off,” and he became preoccupied with his next dose. “That’s all you think about. Your whole day revolves around that. I can’t even tell you the times I actually waited 12 hours. There weren’t many of them.”[9]

OxyContin Addiction Rates 

  • Opioid misuse rates range between 21% and 29% in credible studies.[10]
  • Nearly 1 million Americans 12 and older abused OxyContin at least once.[11]
  • About 5% of people entering addiction treatment programs used OxyContin regularly for at least a year.[12]
  • After OxyContin was reformulated (making pills harder to crush), addiction rates dropped 25%. But abuse rates of other opioid drugs (like morphine and oxymorphone) rose.[13]

OxyContin Side Effects: How It Affects the Body 

Opioids like OxyContin work on almost every system within the body. Side effects are common, and they tend to worsen the longer people abuse drugs.[7] 

Short-Term Effects

Euphoria and relaxation are common in people who use OxyContin for short periods. But some people experience profound sedation, including life-threatening episodes of very slow breathing and heartbeats. These overdoses can be fatal, and they can happen the very first time someone uses OxyContin.[7] 

Long-Term Effects 

With continued use, the brain becomes accustomed to OxyContin.[7] Higher doses are required to deliver euphoria. Those bigger amounts increase overdose risks. 

Long-term use can also cause gastrointestinal problems, including chronic constipation and bowel obstructions. If people try to quit abruptly, they may develop withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, and aches.[7] 

Short-Term EffectsLong-Term Effects
EuphoriaDepression 
Relaxation Drug dependence 
Overdose Gastrointestinal problems 
Dizziness Chronic constipation 
Sweating Bowel obstructions 
Headache Withdrawal symptoms 
Source: [7]

OxyContin Compared to Other Opioids 

Multiple forms of opioids exist. They all work on the same brain receptors, but important differences separate them. Understanding what they are is important. 

OxyContin vs. Oxycodone 

All OxyContin pills contain oxycodone.[7] Generic forms of the drug may be less expensive. They may also come in different formats, including some that enter the bloodstream quicker than OxyContin does. 

OxyContin vs. Morphine 

OxyContin is up to two times stronger than morphine.[14] But many morphine formulations don’t come with anti-abuse coatings that wrap around OxyContin pills. It could be easier for people to crush morphine pills and inject that solution. 

OxyContin vs. Percocet 

Percocet contains oxycodone (just like OxyContin). But Percocet also contains acetaminophen, which OxyContin does not. People who abuse Percocet can endure organ damage due to this additional agreement.[16] 

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction 

People often associate addiction with homelessness and poverty. In reality, anyone who uses painkillers for too long can develop brain changes associated with addiction. The disease doesn’t discriminate by race, class, or gender.  

Symptoms can be split into physical, mental, or behavioral signs.[17] 

Physical 

Sedation, including unexplained napping, is common in people who abuse opioids. People may also develop gastrointestinal problems, including nausea and constipation. People who inject the drug may also have injection-related problems and infections. 

Mental 

Many people with addictions describe a rollercoaster of emotions, swinging from depression to anxiety and back. Some people develop anxiety and paranoia, especially if they’re trying to hide their addiction from others. 

Behavioral 

Many people with addictions withdraw from friends and family as their habits deepen. They may shop for new doctors to get more prescriptions. And they may steal prescriptions from friends and family members. 

Physical MentalBehavioral
ConstipationInconsistent emotional stateDisregard for responsibilities
FatigueAnxiety, depression, and panicDoctor shopping
NauseaDecreased focusSocial withdrawal
ItchingHallucinationsTaking more OxyContin than directed
Respiratory depressionParanoiaStealing prescriptions from friends or family
SweatingInsomniaNeglecting personal hygiene
Sources: [7,15,17]

OxyContin Overdose Dangers 

OxyContin is closely related to overdose conversations. For some people, this medication is synonymous with death from opioids. Researchers say it’s one of the three opioid medications most commonly associated with overdose.[15]

An opioid overdose can cause the following symptoms:[15,17]

  • Sluggish breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Cool body temperature
  • Blue-tinged lips and fingernails 
  • Unconsciousness 

What to Do in the Event of an Overdose 

Naloxone (brand name Narcan), which is readily available in pharmacies all across the country, can reverse an opioid overdose in seconds. It’s delivered via a nasal spray, and it can save lives. 

But someone brought back from an overdose with this medication still needs medical care. Naloxone can wear off too quickly, allowing the person to overdose again.

Take these steps if you think someone is overdosing:

  • Give Naloxone. 
  • Call 911 and tell the operator where you are and what’s happening. 
  • Stay on the phone and with the person. 
  • Turn the person on their side. 
  • If the person doesn’t recover, administer another dose of naloxone.

There is no drawback to giving naloxone if the person isn’t overdosing on opioids. If you suspect an overdose is possible, give naloxone, even if you aren’t positive.

OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms: What to Expect 

While ongoing OxyContin exposure is harmful to your body, it can also seem normal to your brain and vital organs. If you quit taking the drug abruptly, you may develop severe flu-like symptoms.

Symptoms can be split into early and late stages.[4,7,17] 

Early StagesLate Stages
Agitation Stomach cramping 
Anxiety Nausea 
Sweating Vomiting
Watery eyes Diarrhea 
Congestion Muscle and bone aches 
Chills Insomnia 
YawningSevere drug cravings 

Detox & Treatment Options for OxyContin Withdrawal 

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage alone. As you feel more and more sick, you may be tempted to relapse to make yourself feel better. Treatment programs can help you get sober safely and maintain it for longer periods. 

Medical Detox 

A medical detox program is much safer than trying to quit cold turkey. Therapies like buprenorphine and methadone latch to opioid receptors, relieving withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

Your treatment team watches for subtle withdrawal symptoms, and when they appear, they offer medications. Tapering doses allow you to stop using the medication safely. 

Rehabilitation 

In a rehab program, teams help you unpack how your addiction began and what might allow it to continue. Therapy sessions help you identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that increase your drug cravings and make you plan for future doses. Rehab programs can also include nutritional support and exercise therapy, so you can feel physically healthy too. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment 

Some people don’t need medications after a medical detox program. But others struggle with withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings when they try to taper doses. A medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program allows you to keep using the therapies you need as long as you need them.

Behavioral Therapy 

While medications can help you adjust brain chemistry, therapy can help you change the thought patterns and habits that support your addiction. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy can help you understand how your thought patterns can lead directly to relapse. And in therapy, you can practice techniques to help you deal with triggers constructively. 

Aftercare

Support group meetings, including Narcotics Anonymous, can be a lifeline for people in early recovery. When you’re struggling with relapse triggers, you can head to a meeting instead. And your sponsor in the program is always available to assist. 

Therapy sessions are also a good part of your aftercare. A therapist can help you to understand new triggers that might appear in recovery. 

OxyContin Addiction Frequently Asked Questions 

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about OxyContin addiction. 

How long does OxyContin stay in your system?

OxyContin stays in your system for 36 hours or more. These tablets are designed to move out of your body very slowly.

Is OxyContin an opioid?

The oxycodone inside OxyContin is an opioid drug.

Does OxyContin have acetaminophen in it?

No. OxyContin does not have acetaminophen in it. 

What does OxyContin feel like?

Most people experience sedation and euphoria when they take OxyContin.

What does OxyContin look like?

OxyContin pills are typically round, but they can be multiple colors depending on the dosage. Pills can be white, gray, pink, brown, yellow, red, or green.[7]

What is the difference between OxyContin and oxycodone?

Oxycodone is the generic and not time-released form of OxyContin. 

Is OxyContin still prescribed?

Yes. If you’re struggling with severe pain around the clock, your doctor might offer OxyContin to help. But the drug isn’t a first-line treatment for pain, so your doctor will likely suggest other pain management techniques first.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated January 17, 2024
Resources
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  2. The role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family in the opioid epidemic. U.S. Government Publishing Office. Published December 17, 2020. Accessed July 25, 2023.
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  4. Withdrawal management. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Published 2009. Accessed July 25, 2023
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  6. Newly released data shows flow of billions of pain pills from drug companies. Nedelman M, Azad A. CNN. Published July 18, 2019. Accessed July 25, 2023.
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  8. Prescription drugs: OxyContin abuse and diversion and efforts to address the problem. Government Accountability Office. Published December 3, 2019. Accessed July 25, 2023.
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  11. OxyContin fast facts. National Drug Intelligence Center. Published 2003. Accessed July 25, 2023. Vowles KE, McEntee ML, Julnes PS, Frohe T, Ney JP, van der Goes DN. Rates of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction in chronic pain: a systematic review and data synthesis. Pain. 2015;156(4):569-576. doi:10.1097/01.j.pain.0000460357.01998.f1
  12. Carise D, Dugosh KL, McLellan AT, Camilleri A, Woody GE, Lynch KG. Prescription OxyContin abuse among patients entering addiction treatment. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164(11):1750-1756. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07050252
  13. Addiction rates in patients prescribed OxyContin or other opioids after introduction of reformulated OxyContin. Coplan P, Kadikia A. Purdue Pharma. June 13, 2015. Accessed July 25, 2023.
  14. Olesen AE, Staahl C, Arendt-Nielsen L, Drewes AM. Different effects of morphine and oxycodone in experimentally evoked hyperalgesia: a human translational study. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2010;70(2):189-200. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2010.03700.x
  15. Prescription opioids. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 29, 2017. Accessed July 25, 2023.
  16. Yoon E, Babar A, Choudhary M, Kutner M, Pyrsopoulos N. Acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity: a comprehensive update. J Clin Transl Hepatol. 2016;4(2):131-142. doi:10.14218/JCTH.2015.00052
  17. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid use disorder. StatPearls. Published January 2023. Accessed July 20, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553166/
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