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Misusing Oxycodone: The Dangers of Misusing Oxycodone

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated May 17, 2023 • 8 cited sources
oxycodone pills closeup with bottle

Misusing oxycodone can be done in several ways. It can be misusing oxycodone if you are taking it orally but more frequently or in higher quantities than prescribed. In addition, it can be taken non-orally by snorting, smoking or shooting. Consequences of misuse range from mild (like nosebleeds) to severe (like overdose). In the worst cases, oxycodone misuse can result in death.

When oxycodone was first introduced to the American market in the 1980s, it was available in over-the-counter combinations with nonopioid painkillers.[1] We now know that oxycodone is a very dangerous and very addictive medication. 

Misusing oxycodone is (unfortunately) very common. Anyone who takes more of their medication than a doctor recommends — or uses the drug without a prescription — is misusing it. But some people also misuse the drug by ingesting it in a way other than prescribed orally – either by snorting, smoking, or injecting. 

What Are the Common Ways People Misuse Oxycodone?

Oxycodone pills typically come in two formulations. One delivers the full analgesic load at once (immediate release) and the other slowly (time release). Both of these formulations are oral (by mouth). [2] 

These are some of the ways people misuse oxycodone pills, along with the dangers associated with each method:


To snort oxycodone, users crush their pills into a fine powder and inhale the powder through the nose. The powder passes through the cells of the nose into the bloodstream more rapidly than it would if taken by mouth, creating a “high” after a few minutes. 

Snorting is associated with the following health problems:

  • Nosebleeds: Nasal tissues exposed to toxins inside pills can become thin. Some people develop open nosebleeds, while others swallow blood often. 
  • Overdose: It’s difficult to regulate an oxycodone dose via snorting. Snorting greatly increases the risk of accidental overdose. 
  • Infections: Damage to the tissues of the nasal cavity can leave patients susceptible to serious bacterial infections that can affect the nasal sinuses and even into the brain, which can be life threatening. 
  • Tissue death: Some people develop holes in the tissues separating the sinuses and the oral cavity. This tissue can be permanent and disfiguring. 


Some people crush their oxycodone tablets and then smoke the powder. [4] Smoking oxycodone can result in upper respiratory tract and lung damage, inhalation pneumonitis, and bacterial pneumonias. Smoking can also increase the risk of certain cancers. In addition, when oxycodone is smoked, it passes through your lungs and into the bloodstream much more quickly than it would if ingested orally, which can lead to accidental overdose. 


Some people crush their oxycodone tablets, mix the powder with water and inject the solution into blood vessels.[5, 6] People who inject oxycodone, or any drug more generally, are at heightened risk of the following problems:[7]

  • HIV: Sharing needles with someone who has HIV can mean injecting the virus directly into your body.
  • Hepatitis C: Sharing needles can also mean injecting this virus into your body. 
  • Bacterial bloodstream infections: Bacteria can enter the body at the injection site and get into the bloodstream, leading to serious blood stream infections, sepsis and even death. 
  • Tissues Damage: injecting the skin can lead to ulcer formation, scarring, gangrene and permanent tissue damage. 
  • Overdose: Injecting drugs increases the risk of overdose as compared to taking them orally. 

Getting Help for Opioid Use Disorder With MAT

People who misuse oxycodone are at heightened risk of opioid use disorder (OUD). Those with an OUD may feel sick between doses of oxycodone and may continue to use in order to prevent withdrawal. This leads to what can seem like an unbreakable cycle. 

Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) involves the use of drugs like Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) to relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. MAT programs can help you move through withdrawal and sustain your recovery. [8] 

Bicycle Health offers a telemedicine MAT program. Meet with your doctor in convenient video appointments and pick up your prescription at a local pharmacy. Contact us to find out more about how MAT could help you discontinue oxycodone use.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

  1. The Relative Abuse Liability of Oral Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Hydromorphone Assessed in Prescription Opioid Abusers. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. December 2008. Accessed April 2023.
  2. Routes of Abuse of Prescription Opioid Analgesics: A Review and Assessment of the Potential Impact of Abuse-Deterrent Formulations. Postgraduate Medicine November 2015. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Hydrocodone Snorting Leading to Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings July 2016. Accessed April 2023.
  4. Smoke It! Promoting a Change of Opiate Consumption Pattern from Injecting to Inhaling. Harm Reduction Journal June 2014. Accessed April 2023.
  5. Oxycodone Abuse in New York City: Characteristics of Intravenous and Intranasal Users. The American Journal on Addictions March 2011. Accessed April 2023.
  6. How a Painkiller Designed to Deter Abuse Helped Spark an HIV Outbreak. National Public Radio. April 2016. Accessed April 2023.
  7. Route of Administration for Illicit Prescription Opioids: A Comparison of Rural and Urban Drug Users. Harm Reduction Journal. October 2010. Accessed April 2023.
  8. Recovery and Recovery Support. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. February 2023. Accessed April 2023.
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