What is OxyContin®?
OxyContin® is a brand name for a specific formulation of oxycodone, a prescription analgesic (pain reliever) that is derived from opium. Oxycodone is a cousin of morphine, a drug used for severe pain relief -- and abused by addicts -- for almost 200 years.
In the past, oxycodone has been sold under the brand names Percodan®, Percocet®, and Tylox®.
OxyContin® is different from other varieties of oxycodone for three reasons: It contains no other active ingredients (such as aspirin or acetaminophen); it is available in 10, 20, 40, and 80 milligrams tablets, whereas the other common varieties are available in 2.5 and 5 milligram tablets; it has a timed-release coating that allows patients to take it only twice a day, avoiding many side effects. The drug is prescribed for patients with severe pain that is expected to last for an extended period, such as cancer patients.
A patient can take up to 80 milligrams of oxycodone in one dose, which enters the bloodstream gradually, over 12 hours. Other brands of oxycodone have about 5 milligrams per pill, so patients need more pills more often.
The timed-release coating, which makes OxyContin® convenient for real patients, is what Oxy abusers see as the “problem” with the drug.
Drug abusers can be creative. Whoever first decided to abuse OxyContin® learned how to “get around” the timed-release and got a large dose of oxycodone all at once. That person taught other drug abusers how to do it, and an epidemic was born.
The Mechanism of Addiction
The two primary markers of addiction are dependence and tolerance.
Dependence occurs after a period of using OxyContin®/oxycodone (or another opiate.) The brain’s function is adapted to its presence. The drug has been inhibiting the release of various neurotransmitters, and when the drug is taken away, the neurotransmitters are rapidly produced again. The sudden chemical imbalance in the brain leads to withdrawal.
Tolerance is the user’s progressive need to have more and more of the drug in order to feel the same effect. The reason for this seems to be that when the drug abuser’s brain is constantly exposed to a drug, it begins to “fight back,” releasing more of a certain neurotransmitter, for example, to counteract the effects of the drug. A user seeking a high will continue to increase his or her dose to get past the “set point” the brain has established and get to the high.
When abusers try to quit using OxyContin®, they face a new enemy: withdrawal.
Opioid withdrawal is horrible. About six hours after the last dose, the abuser has abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, and runny nose and eyes. The body shakes and the legs ache terribly. The addict experiences extreme muscle cramps and spasms. The person has chills and breaks out in goose bumps all over the body. Depression sets in. The person’s thoughts race wildly and every little sound drives him crazy. Addicts in withdrawal will do anything to get more of the drug.