Oxycodone Abuse Rampant in U.S.

Oxycodone is a narcotic pharmaceutical that’s prescribed to treat pain raging from moderate to severe. It treats pain by depressing the central nervous system. When taken under the supervision of a physician, this powerful medication may alleviate suffering and increase quality of life in people struggling with chronic pain. However, Oxycodone abuse is rampant in the US, and has become such a severe problem that officials are calling it an epidemic.

Chemical Makeup

Oxycodone is classified as a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic. In essence, it’s a pharmacy-produced heroin. Like heroin, this compound was originally derived from the opium poppy. Technically called oxycodone hydrochloride, the molecular formula of oxycodone is C18H21NO4 HCl. However, oxycodone also contains acetaminophen (aka “Tylenol”).

Prescription and Street Names

Oxycodone goes by many names. Some of the most common brand names include:

Below are some of the more common street names for Oxycodone:

How It’s Used

As a medicine, oxycodone is prescribed as a pill taken by mouth, but recreational users may chew it, crush and smoke it or even inject it.

Effects on the Body

Oxycodone works by altering the central nervous system to dull a patient’s sense of pain and emotional reaction to that pain. Its chemical structure is similar to codeine. Oxycodone is about as effective as morphine for pain management.

Oxycodone has a number of side effects:

An oxycodone overdose usually includes the following symptoms:

Oxycodone Addiction

Oxycodone is a powerfully addictive drug. Like all opioids, including morphine and heroin, oxycodone can cause addiction. Tolerance easily builds up, leading to a user taking larger and larger doses through more dangerous means just to achieve a high and avoid the pain of withdrawal.

Withdrawal from oxycodone is notoriously difficult and painful, with symptoms resembling a very nasty flu, complete with fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle spasms and pain. Depressed levels of serotonin and dopamine may also cause anxiety and depression during withdrawal.

Part of what makes oxycodone so scary is that abuse can affect just about anyone—not only teens, but their parents and grandparents too. High-achieving, successful students and even business executives struggle with addiction. So why does it affect so many?

Back in high school, I had acquaintances who I had heard tried oxycodone. One of these acquaintances was my friend’s older brother, “Dave.” Married at 26 and already enjoying a successful career after graduating from college, Dave had been using OxyContin for a while—an addiction that everyone only found out about long after it had started with a prescription for pain from knee surgery years before. To everyone’s surprise and horror, Dave nearly overdosed and wound up in the ER. I remember that treatment for his addiction began in the fall, and he seemed to be doing much better. One night during the following summer, however, Dave fell asleep and never woke up. In the end, it didn’t take much: just 20mg of OxyContin and a single bottle of beer after dinner. Dave’s story is a reminder that oxycodone abuse and addiction can occur even in patients who are taking the prescription as directed by their doctor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2011 that prescription pill overdose deaths from drugs like oxycodone have surged to an all-time high, with 40 people dying of prescription pill overdose every day. And every day, “almost 5,500 people start to misuse” pills like oxytocin. In all, more than 12 million Americans—that’s 1 in 20—have reported misusing their prescription pills.

What Can I Do to Help?

Oxytocin addicts often procure some pills from leftover prescription bottles of friends and family. Carefully monitor your medicine cabinet, and properly dispose of any unused prescription pills. Remember, oxycodone addiction can happen to anyone. Through careful observation, keeping an eye out for the warning signs, and more importantly, acting promptly when you realize someone is struggling, you can take your part in ending one of America’s worst drug epidemics.