This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of oxycodone use, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for oxycodone addiction based on current research and publically available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from the use of specific substances containing oxycodone, such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan or from general opioid-based prescription pain reliever use.
|Derived From||Semisynthetic narcotic analgesic synthesized from thebaine, a component of the poppy plant|
|Ways Used||Ingested, crushed then snorted, dissolved in water then injected, heated on foil and inhaling vapors|
|Scientific Name||4,5-epoxy-14-hydroxy-3-methoxy-17-methyl- morphinan-6-one, dihydrohydroxycodeinone|
|Slang/Street Names for Librium||Hillbilly heroin, OC, OX, Oxy, Oxycet, OxyCotton, cotton, Roxy, Roxy shorts, greens, greenies, whites, blues, buttons, beans, kickers, killers, muchachas, mujeres, 30s, 40s, 512s|
|How Long in Bodily System||Half-life:
3.2 hours for immediate-release formulas
4.5 hours for extended-release formulas
|Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession||Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, so it’s illegal to possess it without a valid prescription. Legal measures for possession vary by state, but the first offense for possession is usually a misdemeanor and can result in a minimum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in prison. Subsequent offenses can be charged as a felony offense with increased fines and prison time.|
|Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing||Possession with intent to sell and distribution are treated equally. An individual convicted of either could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of no more than $1,000,000. If a Schedule II drug is distributed near a school or other youth-centered facility, the penalties double and include at least one year in prison.|
|DEA Drug Rating||Schedule II|
Oxycodone changes the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain by stopping the pain signals from traveling along the nerves to the brain. It also accesses the pleasure center of the brain, releasing dopamine and causing a euphoric high, relaxation, and a sense of well-being. On a chemical level, opioid-based medications, such as oxycodone, are very similar to heroin and present the same risk of a substance use disorder, even when patients take their prescriptions as instructed.
Over time, oxycodone can cause changes in the brain, which can increase the risk of dependence and addiction. Long-term use can also cause permanent changes in the brain that impact cognitive functions, including issues with memory, attention, learning new information, impulse control, and problem-solving.
Abusing oxycodone can lead to a wide array of behavioral changes, including continually increasing use and having an inability to stop, even when it negatively impacts health, finances, and/or personal relationships. The preoccupation with using oxycodone can lead to poor performance at school or work and failure to meet significant responsibilities at home. Some abusers cut back on activities they previously enjoyed, isolate themselves from loved ones, and become secretive about their whereabouts and activities. They may become more irritable, ignore personal hygiene and grooming, and display other drastic changes in their behavior.
For some people, oxycodone can be a gateway drug to illicit drug use. If they can’t get a valid prescription and can’t borrow or steal oxycodone from someone they know, they may try to buy some on the street. Heroin is sometimes easier to get than oxycodone and affects the body much the same way. An estimated 51.3% of people who misused pain relievers in 2018 got their last pills from a friend or relative, but about one in 15 of them bought the pills from a drug dealer or other stranger.
Oxycodone affects the body by blocking pain within approximately 30 minutes of ingestion. It takes about one to two hours for immediate-release formulas to reach peak concentrations and about three to four hours for extended-release versions. During this time, euphoria may set in, but most people also experience other bodily effects, whether it’s being taken recreationally or as prescribed to treat pain. Some symptoms go away after taking the medication for a few days, but other symptoms get worse the longer the medication is taken.
Some negative physical effects that may begin right away include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, lightheadedness, dry mouth, stomach pain, slowed breathing and heart rate, and dilated pupils. Some of these side effects linger for a while, but many begin to decrease as your body gets used to the medication. Other effects may start a bit later and get worse over time, including constipation, sweating, fatigue, mood changes, difficulty urinating, agitation, and confusion. However, not everyone has side effects when taking oxycodone as directed, and many side effects can be prevented or managed with a doctor’s care.
|Short-term Physical Symptoms|
|Initial (direct effects of drug, 30 – 60 min.)||Pain relief
|Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug)||Dry mouth
Slow or shallow breathing
Decreased blood pressure
|Post-Use (several hours to days after use)||Insomnia
Heightened sensitivity to pain
Chronic or long-term use of oxycodone can affect several systems within the body, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune, musculoskeletal, endocrine, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems. Some severe physical effects can be made worse when combining oxycodone with alcohol or other drugs that slow breathing and/or compromise the central nervous system.
The more oxycodone a person takes and the longer they take it, the worse physical effects can get. Many negative effects may improve once oxycodone use or abuse stops, but some damage may be permanent, especially changes within the brain. Increasing the amount or frequency of dosage also increases the risk of overdose.
When oxycodone is used for a long time, it may also become habit-forming and cause physical dependence. People who are physically dependent on an opioid-based pain reliever may go through withdrawal if they stop taking the medication suddenly. It can take days, sometimes weeks, for physical withdrawal systems to completely disappear.
|Long-term Physical Symptoms|
Risk of dependence and addiction
Including all of the above effects for casual use
Hypoxia (low oxygen in tissues)
Increased sensitivity to pain
Slow heart rate
Low blood pressure
Sexual dysfunction in men
Osteoporosis in women
Depressed immune system
Liver damage (especially when taking oxycodone combined with acetaminophen)
Potentially irreversible changes in the brain
Increased chance of overdose
Coma or death
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Sweating alternating with cold flashes
Twitching and tremors
Muscle, joint, and bone pain
Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of oxycodone and other prescription opioid addictions.
Global manufacturing of oxycodone reached a record high of 138 tons in 2013 and has had its ups and downs since; decreasing in 2014 and 2015, increasing in 2016, then dropping again in 2017 and 2018. The United States created 60.5% of the 95.4 tons of oxycodone manufactured globally in 2018. Although production was down, exports hit a record high of 41.1 tons, with most of this increase primarily attributed to the United Kingdom, which was also the main importing country.
With the decrease in manufacturing, global consumption of oxycodone also decreased in 2018, which saw 59.8 tons consumed compared to 62.6 tons in 2017. Consumption was more concentrated in North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, with lesser amounts consumed in West Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and South-Eastern Europe. The United States consumed the largest portion of the global total with 37.9 tons, or 63.4%, consumed in this country alone. Other countries with notable consumption rates included Germany with 3.5 tons, Canada and Australia with 3 tons each, the United Kingdom with 1.7 tons, France with 1.6 tons, China with 1.2 tons, and Spain with 1 ton.
|Regions with Highest Consumption of Oxycodone||North America||Western Europe||Oceania|
|Countries with the Largest Consumption of Oxycodone in 2018||North America
(63.4% of world total)
|Germany (5.8% of world total)||Canada (5.8% of world total)|
The number of individuals misusing prescription pain relievers in 2018 remained high, with 9.9 million people aged 12 and older in the United States misusing these drugs over the past year. As the country with the largest consumption of oxycodone, it’s not surprising that oxycodone products were the second most misused painkillers after hydrocodone products. An estimated 3.4 million people, or 1.2% of the population, misused oxycodone products, including OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Roxicodone, and generic oxycodone.
Prescription pain reliever misuse was lowest among adolescents aged 12 to 17, with 2.8% in this age group misusing oxycodone and other opioid-based prescriptions, which represented about 695,000 adolescents in the U.S. Young adults accounted for 1.9 million of the total group, with 5.5% of people aged 18 to 25 misusing prescription painkillers. Adults aged 26 and older had the largest numbers, with 7.4 million, or 3.4% of this age group, misusing pain relievers in the past year. Adolescents have specifically maintained an ongoing dip in OxyContin use, especially compared to previous peaks with 8th graders peaking in 2006, 10th graders in 2009, and 12th graders in 2005.
|Past Year (2018) OxyContin Use||Peak OxyContin Use|
|8th grade (14-15 yo)||0.8%||2.6% (2006)|
|10th grade (15-16 yo)||2.20%||5.1% (2009)|
|12th grade (17-18 yo)||2.30%||5.5% (2005)|
Oxycodone is an extremely strong, potentially habit-forming opioid-based pain reliever. Opioids cause changes in the brain that make physical addiction more likely and quitting more difficult. Severe withdrawal symptoms can occur if a long-term user suddenly stops taking oxycodone, so tapering is typically recommended. Medications and behavioral therapies can help a person overcome oxycodone addiction, which can be difficult but possible with the right support. To learn more about the treatment process, read our Oxycodone rehabilitation guide, which offers a comprehensive resource for beginning the road to recovery.
If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.
|1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends — especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.|
|2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.|
|3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest yet written from a place of love — no personal attacks.|
|4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.|
|5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependent and enabling behaviors.|