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OxyContin Addiction and Abuse

OxyContin addiction and abuse

OxyContin, a slow-release version of oxycodone, is an opioid drug frequently prescribed for pain relief. First developed in the early twentieth century it is a synthetic opioid that is about 50% more potent than morphine. Its medical use had been well documented and researched, and its strength, effectiveness, and convenience, mean it’s one of the most prescribed opioid painkillers available today.

Usually prescribed for moderate to severe pain, OxyContin is frequently used to help patients manage pain symptoms for limited periods. Common uses include following operations or injuries, when the pain relief offers not just comfort from the pain, but can also enable rehabilitation to speed healing. While it works on any type of pain it is, generally, not used to treat ongoing, or chronic, pain, because of the risk of opiate addiction. However, it is sometimes prescribed for chronic pain associated with terminal or degenerative illnesses when non-opiate alternatives have proven ineffective.

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What is OxyContin abuse?

OxyContin, like any opioid, works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors. These fulfill different functions in the body, but one of the effects includes blocking the transmission of pain signals and altering how the brain interprets those signals. This provides effective pain relief. However, they will also encourage the production of endorphins, one of the body’s natural painkillers and a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.

This additional effect is a large component of the risk of abuse and addiction. By stimulating the brain’s pleasure circuitry, it directly activates part of the neural changes that are associated with addiction.

Additionally, because opioids are fast acting, they carry a risk of the body quickly developing a tolerance, which can increase the risk of higher doses, dependence, and addiction. These effects, combined with its ready availability, make OxyContin one of the most abused prescription drugs currently available.

OxyContin abuse is, basically, any use that is not prescribed by a medical professional. This can include taken a higher dose than prescribed, or more frequently than prescribed, or preparing the drug for administration differently. The drug can be clinically administered by injection of IV drip and is also available as a tablet, and these are often abused by crushing for snorting or further preparation for injection.

The legitimate availability of the drug, combined with the relative ease of getting it from the black market, means that it many people can start to abuse the drug, either following a prescription or by obtaining it openly or surreptitiously from a friend or loved one.

An effect of this is that OxyContin addiction is frequently found among people who do not see themselves as ‘typical’ drug users, and many will develop an addiction without realizing until the abuse and addiction is fully formed. A problem with prescription opioid drugs is that it is difficult, even for the patient, to be fully aware if their need for a drug is transferring from a desire for pain relief, to a desire for the other ancillary effects.

How OxyContin abuse can lead to addiction

While science is continuing to learn about addiction, much is already understood about the addiction cycle. The core of addiction is within the brain, where neural pathways will adapt to the presence of a drug, eventually requiring the drug regularly to stimulate and reward the pleasure centers.

With an opioid like OxyContin it can either be the pleasure or the pain relief that comes with the drug is something the user will seek to repeat. A tolerance can develop, requiring higher and higher doses. But even without a tolerance the user might develop both a psychological dependency, feeling the need for the drug to operate normally, and a physical dependency, in which the brain becomes habituated to the presence of the opiate and requires it for normal functioning.

What are the risks of opioid abuse and addiction?

Opioids have a wide range of effects on the body, as well as pain relief and pleasure, a common side effect include vomiting and constipation because of the role opioids have in the gastro-intestinal tract, for example.

Another, potentially dangerous effect, is to lower the respiration and heart rates. Over time this can lead to tissue and brain damage because of the lack of sufficiently oxygenated blood to the extremities and brain. The drugs can also cause permanent damage to the kidneys and liver which have to work to process and metabolize the drugs. An overdose can depress heart and lung function enough to be fatal.

Abuse and addiction can also have negative effects outside the body. Addiction comes to dominate the addict’s life, stressing their profession and personal lives. Addicts can find themselves in work and financial difficulties as a result, while their relationships with friends and loved ones can be stretched to breaking point. The need to satisfy an addiction can also lead to legal trouble as illicit sources of drugs, and money to buy them, are sought.

Who is at risk of OxyContin abuse?

It’s impossible to say who is at risk of abuse and addiction. Some people can use opioids with no problems, while others will find themselves addicted. The one thing that is known is that no-one can assume they are safe, and it’s important to follow medical directions carefully. Patients should not self-medicate if they feel their dosage is not high enough, but should instead consult their doctor to review their medication.

However, there are several factors that might indicate a higher risk of opioid addiction. These include a family or personal history of addiction, even if to different substances.

Mental illness can also be a risk, since these are frequently linked with some of the same neurotransmitters affected by opioids. And even the patient’s perception of their pain threshold can be important since this might dictate their likelihood to take higher doses. Social factors are also important, high levels of stress, or being exposed to other recreational drug use might make abuse and addiction more likely.

Opioids are highly addictive, but treatment is possible. Because of the effect and power of opiates it’s important to seek progression treatment for abuse or addiction, to ensure that withdrawal and any co-occurring conditions are properly managed.