When the FDA approved OxyContin for use in 1995, the original intent of the drug was to bring relief to terminal cancer patients and those suffering from long-term pain. It’s an opium derivative which has the same active ingredients as Percodan and Percocet, designed for slow release.
However, as with just about any prescription medication, there are some people who chose to abuse it for recreational purposes, and with that misuse comes the danger of overdose and an unpleasant withdrawal.
The drug comes in 10mg, 20mg, 40mg, 80mg and 160 mg tablets, but the most common tablet found is the 40mg. Recreational users, or legitimate users who take too much, will often go “doctor shopping” to get multiple prescriptions. Abusers take the drug, grind it and use a straw to inhale the powder through the nose, resulting in what is described as an intense high.
Federal officials report that no drug in the last 20 years has gone from release to widespread abuse as rapidly as OxyContin. Users can get it on the street and unlike heroin, which can be lacked with other unknown substances, OxyContin dosages are consistent, so the user knows what they are getting. OxyContin is highly addictive, especially when abused.
A pain management clinic will take measures to ensure that patients are not in jeopardy of developing an addiction, but taken without control measures and with no medical need, “Oxy” has become a popular drug of abuse, causing thousands to fall into addiction.
If a user can get OxyContin by prescription, it is cheaper than heroin. On the street, however, it can be more expensive. “Oxy” is also becoming more common on the street than cocaine in some areas.
There are many dangers associated with the drug and chief among those is respiratory depression. Users can also experience sedation, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, constipation and vomiting. Users can develop an addiction when a high dose is used over an extended period of time. Like users of other drugs of abuse, the OxyContin user will develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning that more and more is needed to achieve the same effect. The user craves the artificial feelings of euphoria and pleasure, as the brain chemistry is altered.
The withdrawal is difficult. It is very hard for a person to do this alone, mainly because the symptoms of withdrawal are sometimes worse than those of heroin. People need help to go through a safe detoxification, and medical intervention is necessary. The detox is not painless. Users can experience pain in the muscles and joints, heart palpitations, uncontrollable coughing, extreme fatigue, and can go into depression, among other symptoms.
After detox and treatment, the danger of overdosing on OxyContin is increased. Because it can cause respiratory problems, those overdosing on this drug are often placed on a ventilator until they are able to breathe on their own. A hospital stay might be necessary. Because breaking, chewing or crushing the tablets causes the time-release to happen all at once, the greater amount of the drug released into the system may cause the overdose. The patient’s dosage is stepped down slowly until there no longer is a physical need to take the drug. Users fear the detox more than an overdose, mainly because coming down is so unpleasant. The medical intervention is necessary to help the user through the process, until the body has rid itself of the drug. Once the drug is out of the body, and once the cravings are manageable, the patient can better respond to treatment and recovery.
Without detox, the OxyContin user has little hope of ever kicking the addiction. Going through withdrawal alone is dangerous, if not potentially fatal. Faced with the reality of a painful withdrawal, or getting relief by using more of the drug, the user will choose the drug. It is a downward spiral.
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