OxyContin, a prescription opioid, is the brand name for the generic drug oxycodone hydrochloride. This medication is used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, typically from an injury, cancer, an accident, or a host of conditions, such as neuralgia. OxyContin has a history of being one of the topmost prescription drugs of abuse.
This prescription narcotic is available in tablet form, with milligram dosages of 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80 and 160. OxyContin can be abused in different ways. Individuals may consume too many tablets or alter the form of this drug and intended administration route. Persons who abuse OxyContin may chew or crush it. Crushed OxyContin can be snorted, smoked, or dissolved in liquid and injected.
Injecting OxyContin is so hazardous to health that this drug is now one of the few that has undergone a change in its formulation to include an anti-abuse component. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new OxyContin that is more resistant to being broken, chewed, cut, crushed, or dissolved. In fact, if dissolved in water, it will take on a texture that is nearly impossible to inject. The new formulation does not reportedly affect the potency of OxyContin. This change has reportedly affected the appeal of OxyContin on the street. Old OxyContin pills now have a higher average cost than before; new OxyContin pills are less costly; and some users have reportedly migrated over to less expensive drugs, such as heroin or lower-cost prescription pain relievers.
In view of the many hazards associated with injecting OxyContin, the anti-abuse formulation is considered an achievement and a trailblazer in the developing area of chemical-based bulwarks against addiction. Injecting OxyContin has been associated with the following side effects:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Changes in blood pressure
- Flaccid muscles
- Destruction of tissues
- Acute lung problems and heart trouble
- Increased risk of transmission of infectious diseases
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As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discusses,
individuals who abuse intravenous drugs face a high risk of HIV and particularly hepatitis B and C.
Hepatitis A is also a risk, though this is the least common type communicated within this group. The CDC notes that of all new HIV infections in 2010, 8 percent of those affected had a history of use of injection drugs. Regarding hepatitis C in particular, about 80 percent of individuals who contract this serious liver disease will develop a chronic problem that lasts a lifetime. Over time, hepatitis can cause liver cancer or even liver failure. The minority of those who do not develop severe lifelong hepatitis C overcome the infection without treatment in the first six months. These people had a short-term acute infection without experiencing the full-blown potential of this disease.
Intravenous drug use can have a devastating effect on a person’s veins. The following negative outcomes can follow from repeated injections or a poor administration technique:
- Collapse of the veins due to ongoing irritation from syringes and the drug itself
- The development of scar tissue that in turn causes vein blockage
- Vein damage that decreases blood flow to tissues and in turn makes tissues and organs susceptible to infection and impairs their ability to heal themselves
- Risk of the development of gangrene due to vein damage
Due to the many serious health risks associated with intravenous drug use, it is understandable why there is a considerable push from health advocacy organizations to provide those who use intravenous drugs with clean needles; these community service facilities are called needle exchanges. Some European cities have gone a step further and provide a safe place for people to use drugs, with medical staff onsite and a supply of clean needles. These locales attempt to curb the risk of spreading infectious diseases as well as ensure a safer drug use experience overall.
Individuals who are concerned that a loved one is using OxyContin may consider staging an intervention or having an informal talk about the concerns. At present, admission to a structured rehab program is the most advisable course of treatment for those who abuse OxyContin, whether use is intravenous or not.
Treatment may include U.S. Food and Drug Administration medications that are targeted to stabilize a person’s opioid dependence. In addition, a rehab program will provide the recovering person with individual and group therapy. Depending on the rehab facility curriculum, additional services may be provided, such as group recovery meetings, family therapy, art therapy or expressive therapy, equine therapy, and wellness-oriented activities, like yoga, acupuncture, or massage. A multidisciplinary approach to OxyContin recovery can address the many different and layered facets of addiction.
OxyContin is one of the most abused prescription painkillers due to the drug’s potency. This opioid painkiller was introduced to alleviate moderate to severe pain from chronic illnesses and designed to last for 12-24 hours, depending on the dose. However, people who struggle with addiction to narcotics found ways to bypass the time-release mechanism in OxyContin and ingest the entirety of the drug at once. This led to an increase in drug overdoses.
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a new, tamper-proof version had been created. However, many people who struggle with OxyContin addiction continue to abuse the drug by crushing it to either snort it or inject it intravenously.
Is Injecting OxyContin Worse than Snorting It?
Yes. How quickly a drug gets to a person’s brain is one of the indications of potential addiction, and injecting any kind of intoxicating drug directly into a vein is one of the fastest ways for the chemical to reach the brain.
Snorting a powdered form of a drug is also a very fast way to get high, but it still takes a little time for the substance to cross the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. When a drug like OxyContin is directly injected, there is no barrier between the drug and the bloodstream, so it is sent to the brain very quickly. With a faster and more intense high, a person is more likely to develop an addiction to OxyContin.
Although snorting drugs will cause damage to the nasal passages, mouth, throat, and upper respiratory system, injecting OxyContin can also cause serious physical harm. Data about people struggling with long-term heroin addiction shows that those who inject drugs are more likely to suffer from collapsed veins; bacterial infections of several organs, from the skin to the heart; abscesses and blood clots; arthritis and other rheumatologic issues; greater risk of viral infections like hepatitis B and C or HIV due to needle-sharing; and liver and kidney disease.
Additionally, increasing the speed at which a potent narcotic like OxyContin enters the brain can increase the risk for a drug overdose.
What Are the Risks of an Overdose from Injecting OxyContin?
The FDA label for OxyContin warns about the increased risk of overdose when the drug is tampered with, including by injecting it into a vein. By destroying the time-release aspects of OxyContin, the individual will get the full dose of the prescription narcotic, which is designed to relieve pain for several hours. With so much opioid in the body, the risk of overdose is very high.
Emergency departments report that time-release oxycodone painkillers, like OxyContin, are found four times more often in people admitted for overdose compared to immediate-release oxycodone drugs, although immediate-release oxycodone medications are prescribed five times as often. Although this risk does not specify whether OxyContin was injected or not, the faster an intoxicating substance hits the brain, the faster the potential overdose occurs.
An overdose on a powerful opioid opioid like OxyContin can cause the person to fall unconscious and stop breathing. Oxygen deprivation can damage organ systems and lead to a coma or even death.
Is There Added Risk for Addiction from Injecting OxyContin?
Yes, addiction is more likely to occur when a person injects OxyContin versus taking it via other methods. Although snorting the drug can also quickly lead to addiction, as mentioned above, injecting a drug means that the high occurs faster and may feel more intense. When a person experiences a faster euphoria, parts of the brain, especially the reward system, begin to change because of the flood of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin. When the high wears off, the reward system will have a harder time producing dopamine and responding to a normal amount of dopamine, leading to a comedown or withdrawal symptoms. The person may inject more OxyContin before the original dose has completely left their system to avoid the negative experience from a comedown. The high from injected drugs notoriously does not last very long, so the risk of overdose is much greater as the individual tries to feel the same level of euphoria again.
Injecting any intoxicating substance, including OxyContin, is extremely dangerous. Long-term health risks like infectious diseases and organ damage can cause chronic health problems, and the increased risk of overdose means that a person who injects potent drugs like OxyContin can die. People who struggle with OxyContin addiction may not know how to dose this drug when they do not consume it orally, which increases the risk of overdose and death.