Oxycodone is a type of prescription painkiller given to patients with severe and acute pain. It is an opioid, but it is considered a semi-synthetic agent since it is made from ingredient thebaine, which is derived from the poppy plant. Commonly referred to as “oxy,” it is available in the United States only in the pill or tablet form. Cancer-related pain, acute pain after surgery and pain not controlled by any other means are few instances in which experts prescribe opioids. Unfortunately, oxycodone is now easily available on the streets, which has led to its increased use worldwide and is causing more deaths due to abuse and overdose.
Pharmaceutical agencies commonly mix Oxy with other pain relievers for distribution in markets. Oxycodone products include Percocet (oxycodone with acetaminophen), Combunox (oxycodone mixed with ibuprofen), Oxycodan (oxycodone mixed with aspirin), OxyContin (controlled-release pure oxycodone), Roxicodone and generic oxycodone. Some of the common street names for the drug are “OC,” “Roxy,” “Kicker,” and “Hillbilly Heroin,” among others. According to a 2016 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 3.9 million people (aged 12 and above) misused oxycodone products in the past year.
Classified as a Schedule II drug by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the drug has a high potential for abuse and may lead to severe psychological and physical dependence. Taken orally, 20 mg of immediate release oxycodone is equivalent to 30 mg of morphine. Extended-release oxycodone is considered to be twice as potent as oral morphine.
When taken as prescribed, the drug can help subside pain, cause euphoria and reduce anxiety. However, its abuse can lead to addiction, overdose and even death.
Following are some of the side effects of oxycodone abuse:
- Pruritus (severe itching of the skin)
- Respiratory depression
When taken without a prescription or in more quantity than prescribed, these medications can cause a lethal overdose, resulting in severe respiratory depression. These opioids attach to the mu opioid receptors in the brain, thus, decreasing the rate of breathing in the medulla oblongata in the brain. The body has natural painkillers in the brain known as endorphins, which are down-regulated after chronic use of exogenous opioids. After taking opioids for a sustained amount of time, the body develops a tolerance. When combined with an increased tolerance and a lower regulation of endorphins, a larger and more frequent dose of opioids may be needed to elicit the same effect. This is how addiction develops.