According to CBS News, OxyContin sales in America exceeded $2 billion, outselling all other prescription painkillers in 2010. OxyContin is an opiate, like heroin and morphine, and therefore it is highly addictive. OxyContin is generally prescribed to treat pain. When OxyContin is taken as prescribed, it is an effective treatment. Changing the dosage or using the drug OxyContin for nonmedical reasons (to get "high") can result in abuse. When abused, OxyContin, like other opiates and opioids, can be dangerously addictive. Rather than ingesting the pill as indicated, people who abuse OxyContin use other methods of administering the drug to get more potent effects from the drug. To avoid the controlled-release mechanism, they chew, snort or inject the medication to get an instant and intense "high." Frequent and repeated use of the drug can cause the user to develop a tolerance to its effects, so larger doses are required to elicit the desired sensation and the abuser gets increasingly addicted to the drug. One of the most dangerous effects of OxyContin abuse is that it short-circuits your body's chemical balance, artificially stimulating the pleasure centers in your brain. In cancer patients and other people suffering from debilitating pain, this effect is necessary. In those engaging in OxyContin abuse, it can be deadly.
The physical side effects of OxyContin abuse can be severe and extremely uncomfortable. OxyContin abuse can produce side effects similar to morphine or heroin addiction. Over time, increased dosage and the development of tolerance can cause cold sweats, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle and bone pain, restlessness, involuntary leg movement, vomiting, nausea and severe stomach cramps. Like other addictive drugs, the effects of OxyContin abuse can also cause serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizure, convulsions and death.
During later stages of the "abuse cycle," when an OxyContin patient or "recreational" drug user exceeds a maximal dosage recommendation, problems like heart rate slowing, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, and loss of consciousness often come into play, these are all very uncomfortable side effects. It is especially in cases like these when a supervised drug rehab is of the utmost importance. In addition, OxyContin (or more precisely, the Oxycodone in OxyContin) changes the chemical makeup of the brain and reroutes certain neural pathways. Effects on the neural pathways may wear off several months after OxyContin, although more scientific evidence needs to be collected about whether or not oxycodone related brain changes from the abuse of the drug can ever be completely undone to ward off the effects of withdrawal.
Perhaps most frightening is the fact that post-detox OxyContin addicts remember their last dosages and often persist on the belief that they will forever need high doses of oxycodone to regain the euphoric feeling. However, tolerance wears off, and the body reasserts its opiate naive state. If a recovering OxyContin addict returns to their abuse patterns weeks or months after becoming clean, the same high amount of the drug that they took on a daily basis in the throes of their addiction, can now lead to massive overdose, acute respiratory failure, and sometimes even death. Under prescribed, 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 National Institute on Drug Abuse (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 an overdose can cause respiratory failure and death. Some symptoms of OxyContin overdose include: Seizures, dizziness, weakness, loss of consciousness, cold and clammy skin, confusion, coma, and in the worst case scenarios, death.
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. Because OxyContin affects the brain's chemical make-up, drug abusers who attempt to detox at home may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. In a drug rehab with the support of treatment experts these effects can be minimized and the individual undergoing detox has a better chance of long term recovery.