Oxycodone Misuse: Health Risks, Side Effects and Warning Signs

July 2, 2022

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When a person takes a medication in a different way than it was originally prescribed, it is known as substance misuse. Opioids, including oxycodone, are pain-relieving medications that are often misused.[1]

The misuse of prescription drugs is an ongoing problem. Within the United States, more than six percent of people over the age of 12 misuse prescription drugs at least once per year.[2]

Drug misuse can lead to health problems or even fatal overdoses. Additionally, people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors when they misuse medications, which can lead to injury or disease. These problems can be accompanied by high healthcare costs, instances of violence or crime, and negative impacts on communities.[3]

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is an opioid drug that is sometimes prescribed as a pain reliever. This medication comes in the form of pills, tablets, or a liquid. Oxycodone is sold under brand names like OxyContin, Percodan, and Tylox.[4]

Oxycodone attaches to receptor proteins located within nerve cells in the brain and other parts of the body. This prevents the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. Oxycodone also triggers the release of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure and reinforces behaviors that lead to a reward.[5]

In addition to lessening pain, oxycodone can cause “high” symptoms that include feelings of euphoria and increased relaxation.[4]

Oxycodone Side Effects

Side Effects of Oxycodone

The most common side effects of oxycodone include:[5]

  • Constipation
  • Feelings of weakness or dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting

Oxycodone can also cause several other problems with different organs of the body. When you take oxycodone, you may notice heart palpitations, a skin rash, abdominal pain, diarrhea, feelings of confusion or irritability, hallucinations, or seizures.[5]

It’s best to avoid taking oxycodone with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Using these two drugs together on a regular basis can lead to severe liver damage.[4]

Misusing Oxycodone

Signs of Oxycodone Misuse

Oxycodone is legal when prescribed by a doctor. When your doctor prescribes this medication to you, they will tell you exactly how and when to use it and what dose you should take. It is important to follow these instructions carefully. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to clarify any instructions you don’t understand.[6]

When you’re not using oxycodone as directed, you may be misusing it. Misuse occurs when:[7]

  • You take oxycodone in a way that wasn’t prescribed, including taking a higher dose or using the medication more frequently than recommended
  • You are crushing, chewing, injecting, or snorting oxycodone rather than using it in the prescribed way
  • You use someone else’s oxycodone prescription
  • You take oxycodone to get high

Can You Become Dependent on Oxycodone?

Some people who use oxycodone develop tolerance to or physical dependence on the drug. 

Tolerance occurs when your body gets used to oxycodone, and you need to use more in order to feel an effect. 

Dependence happens when you use oxycodone on a regular basis and your brain adjusts so that it needs the drug to work properly. You can become tolerant to or dependent on oxycodone whether you are taking it with a prescription or misusing it.[7]

If you are dependent on oxycodone and you stop taking it, you may experience withdrawal. If you’re trying to stop using the medication, this is why it’s important to slowly taper off. Some of the symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal include:[6]

  • Sweating or chills
  • Aches and pains
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast breathing rate
  • Weakness
  • Yawning
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleeping problems
  • Feelings of irritability, anxiety, or depression

Misusing oxycodone can also lead to an opioid use disorder (OUD), an illness in which a person continues to take oxycodone despite experiencing negative consequences. There are several oxycodone drug abuse symptoms that may signal that you have an OUD:[8]

  • Using oxycodone despite having problems with health or maintaining relationships
  • Having trouble keeping up with responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Spending less time doing activities you used to enjoy
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from oxycodone
  • Using more oxycodone than you meant to
  • Craving oxycodone
  • Experiencing symptoms of oxycodone tolerance or withdrawal

Can You Overdose on Oxycodone?

Yes, it’s possible to overdose while using oxycodone. Overdoses can be fatal. In 2019, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving oxycodone and other prescription opioids.[9]

Signs of an oxycodone overdose include:[5]

  • A slow heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure, which may cause dizziness, blurry vision, nausea, trouble focusing, or fainting
  • Slow breathing
  • Small pupils
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Limp muscles
  • Clammy skin

Oxycodone overdoses can be treated with a medication called naloxone, sold under the brand names Narcan and Kloxxado. 

Naloxone blocks the effects of opioid drugs. If you or a loved one overdoses on oxycodone, someone should administer naloxone right away and then call 911 to receive emergency medical care. If overdose symptoms return, more naloxone can be given every two or three minutes.[6]

How Is Oxycodone Dependence Treated? 

If you are experiencing effects of oxycodone abuse, there are treatments that may help. 

Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) is a type of treatment in which drugs are used to help  reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. MAT can be used when a person is dependent on opioids. 

Medications like buprenorphine and methadone attach to the same receptor proteins in the brain that opioid drugs bind to, blocking the opioids’ effects. 

The most commonly used medication for MAT is Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.[8]

Mental health treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be useful in helping treat OUD. This type of therapy can help people change their beliefs and behaviors surrounding oxycodone use and learn how to more effectively manage stress. 

Other treatments such as physical therapy can also help people better manage chronic pain, if that is why they began using oxycodone in the first place.[8]

How Bicycle Health Can Help with Oxycodone Dependence

Bicycle Health uses Suboxone as a primary medication for dealing with opioid dependence. To learn more about the benefits and the effects of Suboxone, schedule a time to speak with one of our MAT professionals, or call us today at (844) 943-2514.

Photo by Michelle Leman from Pexels

Karen Vieira, PhD

Dr. Karen Vieira has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, a Master of Science in Management, and a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology.

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1. Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report: Overview. National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2020. Available from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview 

2. Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report: What is the scope of prescription drug misuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2020. Available from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse 

3. Sidebar: The Many Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Misuse. Office of the Surgeon General. November 2016. Available from: https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sidebar-many-consequences-alcohol-and-drug-misuse 

4. Oxycodone. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Available from: https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/oxycodone 

5. Sadiq NM, Dice TJ, Mead T. Oxycodone. StatPearls. Updated May 19, 2021. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482226/ 

6. Oxycodone. MedlinePlus. Revised February 15, 2021. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682132.html 

7. Prescription Opioids DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 1, 2021. Available from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids 

8. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid Use Disorder. StatPearls. Updated July 12. 2021. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553166/ 

9. Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. January 29, 2021. Available from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

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