What are Opioids?
These drugs include oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths.
What is OxyContin?
OxyContin is a time-released version of oxycodone produced by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. It was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1996. It’s often prescribed for cancer clients or those with chronic back pain.
The active ingredient is oxycodone, which is also used in medications such as Percodan or Tylox. The crucial issue, however, is OxyContin’s potency. While Percodan and Tylox contain 5mg of oxycodone, OxyContin contains between 10 and 80mg in one tablet.
Abuse: People who abuse OxyContin either crush the pill and ingest it orally, snort it, or dilute it in water and inject it. Crushing/diluting the tablet removes the time-release action, causing a rapid onset and a strong “high.”
Statistics for OxyContin abuse: Data shows that OxyContin has become a significant drug of abuse in the United States. And that abuse continues to grow.
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, misuse of OxyContin among people in the United States ages 12 and older significantly increased every year from 2002 to 2006.
- Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) emergency department system shows that misuse of oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin) rose 152 percent between 2004 and 2008, to more than 105,000 emergency room visits.
- In 2006, approximately 4 million people 12 and up reported using OxyContin for non-medical uses at least once in their lifetime, and more than 500,000 were new non-medical users.
- By 2001, OxyContin was the best-selling non-generic narcotic pain reliever in the U.S.
- An analysis of data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found that retail sales of oxycodone “jumped nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005.”
- 2008 sales of OxyContin in the U.S. totaled $2.5 billion.
Long Term Effects of Opioid Abuse
Long-term effects: One of the most detrimental long-term effects of OxyContin and opioid abuse is addiction itself. Addiction is a chronic disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite negative consequences, and by changes in the brain.
OxyContin produces profound degrees of tolerance and physical dependence, which contribute heavily to abuse. Painful withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly.
Over the last 20 years, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Experts said that when there are gaps in the effect of a narcotic like OxyContin, patients can suffer body aches, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal. When the agony is relieved by the next dose, it creates a cycle of pain and euphoria that fosters addiction, they said.
OxyContin taken at 12-hour intervals could be “the perfect recipe for addiction,” said Theodore J. Cicero, a neuropharmacologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a leading researcher on how opioids affect the brain.
Patients in whom the drug doesn’t last 12 hours can suffer both a return of their underlying pain and “the beginning stages of acute withdrawal,” Cicero said. “That becomes a very powerful motivator for people to take more drugs.”
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