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OxyContin is a prescription medication that’s approved for use in people who have severe pain. In order to obtain the approval to sell this drug on the prescription market, the manufacturer had to conduct many, many tests, and then write up a series of reports that outline how the medication works, whom it is designed to help and the side effects that might strike some people who take the drug. Much of the information that’s included with bottles of OxyContin comes as a result of this testing, and some addicts believe they can read these pamphlets and know exactly what to expect if they take and/or abuse the drug. Unfortunately, addicts who do this do so at their peril. The research done on OxyContin was performed using a specific, therapeutic dose of the drug, and the side effects a person experiences when the drug is used at higher doses, or in a completely different way, might be a lot harder to determine.
Research on the long-term health effects of OxyContin abuse and addiction is ongoing, and the result of much of that research is discussed below. It’s important to note, however, that experts don’t yet know about all of the problems long-term abuse can cause. Abuse of the drug is relatively new, and it might take several years of study on people who abuse the drug to truly determine all the damage that can be done by a long-standing addiction.
Overdose: A Major Concern
When asked to name the most common negative risk of long-term OxyContin abuse, most experts point to a persistent risk of overdose. Like most painkillers, OxyContin is a central nervous system depressant, which means the medication slows down the pulse and also slows down the breathing rate. People who take very high doses of OxyContin may become a bit cocky about how much of the drug they can take in one sitting, and as a result, they may take bigger and bigger doses of the drug, all at the same time. Overdose can quickly follow.
Signs of an overdose include:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Slow breathing
- Cool skin
Overdose rates for drugs like OxyContin are on the rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reports that since 2003, more overdose deaths have involved opioid medications like OxyContin than heroin or cocaine combined. While it’s possible that some of these deaths were intentional, as the drugs seem to provide a quick way to commit suicide, it’s likely that many of these deaths were purely unintentional. Since large doses are needed in order to overdose, it’s likely that many of these overdose deaths were among addicts.
Erosion of Nasal Passages
OxyContin is produced in a pill form that’s designed to be swallowed whole. When the drug hits the user’s stomach, the active ingredients slowly suffuse the bloodstream and bring about the effects that the user craves. This can take several minutes to achieve, however, and some users report that the euphoria felt by this method isn’t quite as intense as it might be if all of the drugs were available in the bloodstream at the same time. In order to accomplish this, some users crush the pills and snort them into their nasal passages.
The nose is lined with delicate tissue that has blood vessels that are quite near the surface. When drugs come into contact with these tissues, they can enter the body quite quickly, but they can also cause the tissue to change. OxyContin seems to shrink the vessels in the nose, just as cocaine does, and when the vessels are shrunk in this way, the tissue begins to erode or die away. An article in the Journal of Medical Toxicology outlines the case of a young woman who developed this sort of damage to her nose and throat due to snorting oxycodone. It’s likely there are hundreds or even thousands more cases just like this.
Dealing with a nasal passage problem like this can be difficult. Some people need reconstructive surgeries in order to remove dead tissue. Other people with mild forms of damage may be treated with saline sprays and conservative medical care.
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As mentioned, OxyContin tablets were never intended for crushing. They were meant to be swallowed whole. However, some people choose to crush the pills, add them to liquid and then inject them into their veins. According to an article submitted to the journal Substance Use and Misuse, people who attempt to do this often end up with a sticky, clumped powder that tends to block and clog a syringe. They may try to filter the goo, in order to remove the insoluble particles, but they are not doing this preparation in a laboratory or in sterile conditions. They tend to use the tools they have available, and perform the preparation just moments before they plan to inject. As a result, filtering may not remove all of the particles, and placing them into the bloodstream can be extremely dangerous. These particles can collect near the heart or in the soft tissues of the liver, and they may cause irritation or local infections that could be life threatening. They can also gather together in a bolus and travel to the brain, where they could cause a stroke. People who inject OxyContin in this way face a high risk of these serious health problems.
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People who inject OxyContin often share needles with one another. It’s a form of giving and community, and it’s almost an expected part of the drug experience, especially since needles are expensive and hard to come by in some communities. In order to reduce their risk of getting an infection via this practice, some people choose to bleach their needles between uses, and while this can be somewhat effective, a study in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes found that even bleach couldn’t reduce the viability of the HIV virus to zero. The risk is still there. People who share needles with others who are infected with HIV/AIDS run a risk of developing the disease.
Even people who don’t inject OxyContin, or who do inject but don’t share needles, may still be at risk for HIV. The drug seems to lower inhibitions, encouraging people to act in ways in which they might not normally act. They may have sex with multiple partners, for example, or they may have unprotected sex with people they don’t know well. This could also lead to infection, as not all people who have HIV/AIDS show symptoms. It can be hard to tell who has the disease and who does not. People who engage in risky sex are facing real danger.
People who inject OxyContin might also face the risk of infections around the sites where they inject the drug. Tiny bacteria could cling to the needles, or it could be sitting on the surface of the skin, and the needle could deliver those bacteria deep beneath the skin where it can grow and blossom. Some people who inject drugs develop painful, abscessed lesions around their injection sites, and they must take a significant amount of medication to combat those infections. Left untreated, some infections can travel to the lining of the heart or to the brain, and they can be fatal.
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People who abuse OxyContin develop a physical tolerance for the drug, and as a result, they may need to take larger and larger doses of the drug in order to feel the same effect. Each pill can be expensive, and some addicts may find that they’re spending hundreds of dollars each day just to feed their addictions. In order to keep costs down, some addicts switch to heroin. It sounds implausible, but there are a number of studies that suggest that OxyContin can work as a gateway drug, exposing users to the greater dangers of more potent drugs, such as heroin. For example, a small study conducted in Ohio and published in the journal American Family Physician found that a significant number of heroin users were prior users of OxyContin. These respondents stated that they likely would not have tried heroin unless they had used OxyContin in the past.
- Brain damage
Some people who abuse heroin need to take replacement therapies for the rest of their lives, as their bodies can no longer function without some outside form of therapy. It’s a devastating addiction most people would like to avoid at all costs.
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Breaking the Pattern
It can seem difficult, if not impossible, for OxyContin abusers to stop. In fact, when they do try to stop, they may feel unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that cause them to return to drug use almost immediately. That’s why a structured rehabilitation program, such as the program we provide at Axis Recovery, is so important. In a structured program, those withdrawal pangs can be minimized so the addict can have a clear mind and the ability to focus on recovery. In an inpatient program, like our program, the addict can also be removed from temptations to use and friends who use, so their recovery can strengthen and grow before the addict returns home again. It’s a lifesaving form of help, and we’d like to talk with you about it. Please contact us today.
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