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What are the five worst side effects of OxyContin abuse?

Why do people take OxyContin?

OxyContin is an FDA-approved opiate painkiller indicated for treating moderate to severe pain. The active ingredient in this control-release tablet is oxycodone. OxyContin is for patients who will benefit from around the clock pain control. 

Many people take extended-release OxyContin as directed by their doctor, and they have improved functioning as a result. By managing pain, the patient should have improved functioning.

When a doctor prescribes OxyContin, they will inform their patient of the possible side effects they may experience from the medication. Some side effects are more common than others. And some are more severe and dangerous.

1) OxyContin causes significant constipation.

Many people who take the opioid agonist pain killer will experience constipation. Opioid meds work on opioid receptors in the central nervous system and throughout the body. There are also opioid receptors in the intestines.

When an opioid agonist stimulates receptors in the gut, there is a decrease in gastrointestinal motility. Peristalsis is the movement that occurs that helps to squeeze and push waste material through. This movement slows down with opioid use.

A relatively new medication for treating constipation blocks the intestinal opioid receptors, making them unavailable for prescribed opioids to affect intestinal motility. The prescription drug is called Movantik, or naloxegol.

You may have noticed that the generic name for Movantik resembles the names of some commonly used opioid receptor blockers. Naloxone and naltrexone are opioid antagonists that also block opioid receptors. 

Is naloxegol similar to those other drugs? The main difference is that naloxegol does not cross the blood-brain barrier. As a result, it has the beneficial effect of preventing opioid-induced constipation while not blocking the opioid’s actions in the central nervous system.

Generally, if a side effect is possible for patients who take OxyContin as directed, the side effect will be more likely to occur and more severe for people who abuse it. Oxycontin abusers may experience severe constipation.

To make matters worse, when a person abuses OxyContin, they have little interest in their health and nutrition. Walking daily, drinking adequate fluids, and eating a diet rich in fiber can alleviate opioid-induced constipation. 

As you can imagine, a person who abuses OxyContin will not engage in those activities. It is not uncommon for a person abusing opioids to present to the ER with severe constipation that may even require surgery.

2) OxyContin causes drowsiness and sleepiness.

While drowsiness may not seem too severe, it can be detrimental over more extended periods. People who abuse OxyContin complain of a general feeling of brain fog. They are not able to think as clearly as they were able to before abusing drugs.

At best, this ongoing brain fog may reduce the person’s effectiveness at work and at home. They may always feel as if they are in survival mode, just trying to get by. 

There is no motivation to excel and move ahead in life. A person using opioids recreationally may claim that it does not affect their work and home activities. Yet, they will not be functioning at their best while using OxyContin.

When patients go to a doctor for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with Suboxone for opioid abuse treatment, they are sometimes concerned that they are switching one addiction for another. Suboxone contains the opioid, buprenorphine, so it makes sense to them. 

Many treatment programs support the idea that MAT is not the best treatment for opioid addiction, even though years of scientific studies show that MAT is, by far, the best treatment for opioid use disorder. Hopefully, more treatment centers in the United States will offer this evidence-based substance abuse treatment protocol.

They quit an opioid, and then a doctor prescribes an opioid for addiction treatment. Yet, buprenorphine is a unique opioid because it is a partial agonist and full antagonist of the opioid receptor. Suboxone has unique properties and is not at all like OxyContin.

Patients who take Suboxone no longer behave or think in an addictive manner. They do not obsess over taking opioids and getting high. OxyContin addiction is a mental illness that is well managed with MAT combined with behavioral health services.

One of the best results of taking Suboxone that patients often report to their doctors is that the brain fog is no longer an issue. Patients and their families notice that they have returned to full cognitive functioning. When going from OxyContin abuse to Suboxone treatment, the fog is lifted.

3) OxyContin causes euphoria, a feeling of wellbeing, and pleasure.

One of the significant problems with opioids, in general, is that, in addition to controlling pain, they also produce euphoria. Why would it be a problem when your medication has the side effect of making you feel good?

While it seems like it might be a good thing to get a feeling of wellbeing as a side effect of taking medication, it, unfortunately, presents a problem. The problem is related to the intended purpose of opioid receptors in the human central nervous system.

Our brains did not evolve so that OxyContin would work as an effective analgesic medication. The purpose of opioid receptors seems to be that they are a part of a reward system in the brain.

The theory is that when we do something beneficial to our survival, such as eating, exercising, or reproducing, our brains produce endorphins. These natural brain chemicals attach to the opioid receptors and give us a mild pleasurable feeling. 

The brain learns that what feels good must be suitable for our survival. In many cases, the lessons learned with this primitive mechanism are appropriate.

Imagine in prehistoric times, when cave people tried different foods in nature. Fresh, ripe, nutritious berries taste sweet. The brain registers this as a pleasurable event and good for survival. Similar pleasurable feelings occur when a person finds a suitable mate or wins a battle. 

In modern times, the brain’s reward system gets short-circuited by pleasure-inducing products of our society. We have refined, high sugar and high carb foods, excessively available, potent alcohol drinks, and endless television shows, designed to catch our attention.

When it comes to opioids, this short-circuiting happens in the most direct way possible. The drug itself targets the very receptor intended for endorphins. 

While not all people who take opioids, whether as prescribed or abused, become addicted, a small percentage of the population is susceptible to opioid addiction. The opioid drug stimulating the receptor leads to a pleasurable feeling that the brain, over time, interprets it as necessary for survival.

Most people think about eating at various times throughout the day. We get hungry, and we think about eating. We make plans for what we might eat and where we will get our food. Thinking about food makes sense because we need to eat to live.

Opioids reprogram the brains of some people to reinforce the need for more opiates in the same way that we think about food. The mind thinks of the drug as being necessary for survival.

A person addicted to opioids thinks about their drug of choice all day. They obsess over it, planning on when and where they will get more and how they will use it.

So, while euphoria seems like it shouldn’t be a problem, it is very concerning. When a patient reports this side effect to their doctor, the doctor should consider discontinuing the medication. In the case of OxyContin abuse, there is no doctor with whom to consult. Hence, addiction is more likely to occur in people who misuse OxyContin. 

Becoming addicted is even more likely if they snort, inject, or smoke the drug. For this reason, the manufacturer has implemented an abuse-deterrent system to make it more difficult to misuse OxyContin in ways that involve crushing the tablet.

Purdue, the company that makes OxyContin, updated the formulation in 2010 to include a proprietary polymer gel matrix inside the time-release tablet. If an OxyContin abuser attempts to break the outer shell, the thick, goopy inside is not suited for injection, snorting, or smoking. While Purdue has made efforts to minimize OxyContin abuse, many people, including high government officials, blame the company for the current opioid crisis.

4) Discontinuing OxyContin causes a severe opioid withdrawal syndrome.

Why do opioid users find it so hard to quit? Is it because of the psychological effects of addiction? Do opioid users crave the feeling of taking more OxyContin to get high?

While OxyContin abusers crave the drug and the high they get from it, they also fear the withdrawal syndrome that will ensue within a short time of quitting. 

OxyContin withdrawal symptoms are severe, similar to flu symptoms, but much worse. The symptoms do not subside in a day or two. For most OxyContin users, the withdrawal syndrome will last for days and even weeks. Some long-term users may have lingering withdrawal symptoms for months.

Withdrawal symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, muscle aches, chills, cramps, abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Anxiety and depression are also common symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

If you have never experienced opioid withdrawal, you may think that it doesn’t sound that difficult to survive. Yet, the severity of the symptoms can be overwhelming. Additionally, many OxyContin users describe intense drug cravings as the withdrawal symptoms intensify. 

Patients who take OxyContin prescribed by a doctor are also at risk for withdrawal if they stop taking their medication without gradually reducing the dosage. OxyContin withdrawal syndrome is due to physical dependence that develops over time. While physical dependence is not the same as addiction, it can be challenging to overcome when combined with opioid addiction.

5) OxyContin abuse can cause respiratory depression.

Of all of the side effects that can occur with OxyContin, respiratory depression is the most ominous. Respiratory depression is the mechanism of death in OxyContin abusers who die from an opioid overdose.

Respiratory depression is a side effect that can occur with all opioids. Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, has a ceiling effect that helps to make respiratory depression less likely, but it can still occur. Taking other sedating drugs with buprenorphine can greatly increase the risk.

With OxyContin, this side effect of respiratory depression is a significant risk, especially with OxyContin abuse. One reason this side effect is a higher risk with OxyContin than other pain meds is that there is so much oxycodone in each tablet.

The most potent pill is 80mg, which is a lot of oxycodone. In some states, this is above the legal limit of what doctors are allowed to prescribe.

Even the 80mg tablet is small. A new drug user who has little experience with using the drug may assume that the small tablet is not too strong. If they have low opioid tolerance, they can easily overdose on OxyContin. The risk of overdose is higher when a drug abuser attempts to snort, inject, or smoke it.

When OxyContin was first released, there was a 160mg tablet. Purdue dropped the 160mg pill because of the danger of overdose. Yet, in the paperwork sent to most patient assistance program members in 2010, the company explained to patients that they qualified to get up to 800mg of OxyContin daily!

Patients who take OxyContin for chronic pain can manage side effects.

If you are prescribed OxyContin by your doctor, be sure to let your doctor know if you have any concerning side effects from the medication. Communicating with your physician is an important component of your health care. Your doctor cannot give you helpful medical advice if you do not communicate with them.

You may also experience other side effects, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, dry mouth, and itching. When it comes to constipation, don’t stay quiet if you have this problem. Your doctor can help with some recommendations and possibly prescription medication.

Another side effect that you may experience is known as hyperalgesia. Hyperalgesia means that you have pain that is due to the medication itself. When patients develop tolerance to OxyContin, their doctors often compensate by increasing the dose.

At some point, you may notice that you have more pain with a dosage increase. If this happens, you may be experiencing hyperalgesia. Let your doctor know if you have this symptom.

The solution to improving your pain relief in this situation is to lower your daily opioid dosage. While this seems counterintuitive, with hyperalgesia, it is the best way to relieve the side effect and feel better.

The side effects of OxyContin addiction can be deadly.

While the side effects of the drug can be dangerous for patients who take prescription OxyContin, the side effects of OxyContin abuse are especially deadly. If someone in your family takes OxyContin by a doctor’s prescription or abuse OxyContin, you should have the Narcan rescue nasal spray in your home. Narcan can reverse an OxyContin overdose.

If you witness someone overdosing on OxyContin, give them Narcan and call 911. For more information on the side effects OxyContin presents to opioid users, I recommend tuning in to OxyContin Addiction Podcasts, such as The Rehab Podcast on the Mental Health News Radio Network.

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