As one of the newer pharmaceutical drugs, Oxycontin—which contains the active ingredient oxycodone and is similar in composition to hydrocodone—has quickly become one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the United States. In fact, Oxycontin drug abuse rates are alarming: there has been an 82 percent rise in prescriptions for the drug since it was created in 1995; more than 182,000 emergency room visits were the result of accidental misuse or abuse of oxycodone products; 70 percent of high school students have reported abusing Oxycontin and the drugs related to it; five percent of all current drug addicts abused Oxycontin before abusing a more potent narcotic drug; and some 16 million Americans over the age of 12 have used the opiate for a non-medical purpose at least once in the past year.
These oxycontin addiction rates are a direct reflection of the drug’s potent effects. Oxycontin is typically prescribed for pain management, and ironically one of its original intentions was as a substitute for stronger opiates due to the time-release nature of the medication. Unfortunately, because of its wide availability the number of Oxycontin addiction stories has skyrocketed in the last decade: 21 percent of addicts admit to stealing from friends and family when they were no longer able to obtain it legally from a physician or other healthcare specialist, and more than 2.1 million people in the United States currently suffer from substance abuse to an opioid pain reliever such as Oxycontin. Worldwide, the statistics are even more dramatic: it’s estimated that between 26 and 36 million people abuse opioids on a regular basis.
“Oxy” drug addiction typically occurs because of the way the drug affects the body and brain. The active ingredient—Oxycodone—is similar to morphine or even heroin. By altering the mind’s perception and emotional response to pain through binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, the drug creates a sense of euphoria and extreme relaxation. It also can stop the cough reflex and cause the pupils to dilate, lower body temperature and cause respiratory depression.
However, unlike other drugs in the opioid class Oxycontin is designed with a time-release component, eliminating the need for the user to take a pill every few hours and experience the pain-relieving benefits over the course of half a day from a single dose. The danger for addiction occurs when abusers crush the pills and either inhale or inject the powder, effectively eliminating the time-release control for a sudden and extreme “high.” Taking Oxycontin in this manner can easily lead to coma and even death as the body is unable to absorb the drug and compensate quickly enough to avoid cardiac arrest, which can occur within a matter minutes.