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Oxycodone Addiction: The Facts

Opioids (also called opiates) are prescription pain relievers that reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain. Although prescription opioids can be used effectively for short-term pain management, they come with serious risks. All opioid-based drugs and medications have the ability to produce changes in human brain chemistry that may result in physical dependence and addiction, especially in individuals who receive no medical oversight from a prescribing doctor.1 According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over the last 20 years more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, the brand name for the opioid oxycodone. Opioids are responsible for claiming more than 190,000 lives in the U.S. since 1999, with most experts blaming OxyContin for setting off the nation’s deadly prescription opioid epidemic.2

Prescription Opioids: Facts and Stats

  • In 2014, 10.3 million people reported using prescription opioids for nonmedical uses.3
  • Emergency room visits involving misuse or abuse of prescription opioids increased 153% between 2004 and 2011.3
  • Admissions to substance abuse treatment programs linked to prescription opioids more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2012.3
  • From 2000 and 2014, the prescription-opioid overdose death rate nearly quadrupled.3
  • Prescription opioid overdoses claim the lives of 44 people every day in the U.S.4
  • The majority of drug overdose deaths in 2014 (more than 60%) involved prescription opioids or heroin.5
  • According to figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) published in 2015, 50.5% of people who misused prescription painkillers received them from a friend or relative for free.5

Oxycodone and Other Drugs in Same Class

Oxycodone is the generic name for OxyContin, the prescription painkiller Purdue Pharma began distributing in 1996. Other prescription drugs in this class include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, hydromorphone and variants with acetaminophen. When used as an intoxicant, prescription opioids create a euphoric, but deeply relaxed, state of mind. It is this reality-bending capacity that makes oxycodone products seductive for people seeking an escape from persistent physical or emotional pain. The illicit drug heroin is also in this class and is currently less costly to buy on the street than many prescription opioids.6

Shortly after OxyContin hit the market, reports of illicit use and abuse began to increase. It was discovered that OxyContin was being crushed into a powder and snorted, chewed and dissolved in water and injected. These methods have been used primarily with the brand OxyContin to defeat the time-release mechanism of the drug. This causes the active ingredient to take effect almost immediately after ingestion and greatly increases the risk of overdose. In 2010 in an attempt to decrease epidemic levels of abuse, Purdue reformulated OxyContin into an abuse-deterrent pill.6

Multiple studies have shown immediate decreases in abuse after the reformulated OxyContin was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2010. While abuse-deterrent formulations curtailed misuse, the extent of their effectiveness had clear limits, as evidenced by significant levels of residual abuse. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed the use of both heroin and OxyContin due to high levels of concurrent use of both drugs (82.3% of heroin users also had past-month abuse of prescription opioids). Fifty-one of the 153 participants in this study indicated that the introduction of the abuse-deterrent pill caused them to select other drugs, with 70% indicating heroin was the drug of choice. Although 38% of participants indicated the transition to heroin was motivated by a desire for a more intense high than prescription opioids delivered, 65% said heroin was the practical alternative because it was more readily available and cheaper than other opioid analgesics.7

Nonmedical use of prescription opioids appears to be a serious risk factor for future heroin use. According to national level general population data on heroin use, nearly 80% of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.8 This is an alarming trend with myriad contributing factors, such as the reformulation of OxyContin, the rising cost of prescription drugs, decreasing cost of heroin, co-occurring conditions, familial and genetic influences and more. The U.S. is struggling with an opioid epidemic once again, however, now the primary culprit is heroin. Heroin use has more than doubled in the past decade among people ages 18 to 25. Heroin-related overdose deaths more than tripled since 2010, and from 2013 to 2014, heroin overdose death rates increased by 26%, with more than 10,500 people dying in 2014.9

Teens and Oxycodone Abuse

Many young people believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by physicians, dispensed at pharmacies and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies.10 Since oxycodone is commonly found in many home medicine cabinets, it is easily accessible to teens. In some cases, teens are introduced to the drug by friends at school. While drug use among 12th graders decreased in nearly every category in 2014, the following statistics indicate there is still a significant problem in the U.S.10

  • The usage rate of past year nonmedical pain relievers among youth ages 12 to 17 was 6.2%. Among young adults ages 18 to 25, the rate was 11.8%.10
  • Youth ages 12 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 25 were both more likely to misuse prescription drugs than people 26 and older.10
  • In youth ages 12 to 17, the rate of misusing prescription drugs increased from 2.2% in 2013 to 2.6% in 2014.10
  • On a typical day during the past year, an average of 5,784 adolescents used prescription pain relievers non-medically for the first time.10

Treatment for OxyContin Dependency

The only way to curb the abuse of opioids is to stop it in its tracks. Teens experimenting with prescription painkillers can quickly develop oxycodone addictions or move on to heroin to fulfill the ever-increasing craving for an intense high. Professional treatment is an essential intervention to ensure that adolescents get back on a safe and sober life path. If you are worried that your teen is abusing OxyContin or any other opioids, contact The Right Step at 1-844-756-2656 for a confidential consultation.

  1. What are opioids? National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/opioids/what-are-opioids Updated November 2014. Accessed August 25, 2016.
  2. Ryan H, Girion L, Glover S. You Want a Description of Hell?’ OxyContin’s 12-Hour Problem. Los Angeles Times. May 5, 2016. http://static.latimes.com/oxycontin-part1/ Accessed August 24, 2016.
  3. Compton WM, Jones CM, Baldwin GT. Relationship between Nonmedical Prescription-Opioid Use and Heroin Use. N Engl J Med. 2016 Jan 14;374(2):154-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1508490.
  4. Opioids. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. http://www.samhsa.gov/atod/opioids Updated February 23, 2016. Accessed August 25, 2016.
  5. Understanding the Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/ Updated June 21, 2016. Accessed August 25, 2016.
  6. Oxycodone. Center for Substance Abuse Research website http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/oxycodone.asp Updated October 29, 2013. Accessed August 25, 2016.
  7. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS. Abuse-Deterrent Formulations and the Prescription Opioid Abuse Epidemic in the United States: Lessons Learned From OxyContin. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(5):424-430. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3043.
  8. Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use Updated December 2015. Accessed August 25, 2016.
  9. Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/heroin.html Updated March 14, 2016, Accessed August 25, 2016.
  10. Specific Populations and Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. http://www.samhsa.gov/prescription-drug-misuse-abuse/specific-populations Updated October 27, 2015. Accessed August 25, 2016.
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