Oxycodone is a powerful, narcotic analgesic (painkiller). It is a semi-synthetic opioid. Oxycodone is generally prescribed for moderate to severe pain. In sufficient doses, oxycodone produces a feeling of euphoria. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in a number of commonly prescribed pain relief medications such as Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox, which are oxycodone plus some sort of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or acetaminophen. Oxycodone is also the active ingredient in OxyContin , a pure, long-acting form of the drug, and Roxicodone, an pure, short-acting form.
Oxycodone was first introduced in the US in 1939, but it was not widely prescribed until the release of Percodan-an oxycodone pill cut with aspirin-in 1950. As more people were prescribed oxycodone, its potential for addiction became more widely known. In 1963, the attorney general of California publicly denounced Percodan abuse as the source of one-third of all drug addictions with the state. As a result, regulation of oxycodone in the United States was increased. In 1970, oxycodone, along with all other opiates, was made a Schedule II drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
Since the 1970’s, abuse of oxycodone has been a continuing problem in the US. In 1995, the Federal Drug Administration approved the manufacture of OxyContin, a time-release version of oxycodone. When the drug was released, concerns and reports of illicit use and abuse began to increase exponentially. Before the release of OxyContin, all formulations of oxycodone contained an NSAID, which limited its potential for abuse. The NSAID component of the drugs also restricted the routes of administration to oral ingestion. When OxyContin was released, abusers realized that they could crush the pill to release pure oxycodone (up to 80mg in one pill), which allowed larger doses and by additional routes of administrations such as intravenous and intranasal. Due to the widespread abuse, especially in rural areas, OxyContin came to be known as “Hillbilly Heroin,” and reports of its abuse flooded the media.
When oxycodone is ingested (it can be smoked, snorted, injected or swallowed), users experience a surge of euphoria (“rush”) accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Oxycodone has a high potential for abuse because of the “rush” produced in the brain as a result of use.
The most commonly reported adverse effects of oxycodone use are memory loss, constipation, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, dry mouth, itching, and heavy sweating. In high doses, oxycodone suppresses respiration, which could lead to coma and death.
Oxycodone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. They bind to the same receptors that our bodies’ natural painkillers bind to. After prolonged oxycodone use, the body stops producing natural painkillers, resulting in opiate dependency.
When a person becomes physically dependent on oxycodone, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug. The severity of oxycodone withdrawal depends on the dose of oxycodone that the person was taking and the duration of use. Some common withdrawal symptoms include: shivering, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, muscle aches, hot and cold flashes, and diarrhea. It is important to note that withdrawal from oxycodone is not life-threatening, but it is extremely uncomfortable.