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Misusing Oxycodone: The Dangers of Misusing Oxycodone

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Mar 12, 2024 • 17 cited sources

Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller available in the United States via prescription only. While it’s helpful for those in pain, the medication can also cause a euphoric high. Sometimes, people misuse the drug for that effect.[1]

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, such as by snorting, smoking or injecting the drug.

Between 1999 and 2021, nearly 280,000 people died in the United States from overdoses involving medications like oxycodone.[9] People who misuse the drug may buy it from street dealers, and their products are often contaminated with deadly ingredients like fentanyl.[9] Anyone misusing oxycodone should get help to quit.

What Are the Common Ways People Misuse Oxycodone?

Oxycodone pills typically come in two formulations, and both are taken orally. One delivers the full analgesic load at once (immediate release) and the other slowly (time release).

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.

Little is known about the health effects of snorting drugs like oxycodone. In one study, a person who snorted another opioid (heroin) for many years developed life-threatening nasal bleeding that required hospitalization. Researchers warn that this practice could lead to other health problems not yet identified.[15]

Other researchers say snorting oxycodone has led to nasal complications like tissue death.[16]


Some people crush their oxycodone tablets and then smoke the powder. Researchers say this method of drug use can help people avoid the risks associated with shared needles.[4] However, it’s not entirely risk-free.

Smoking oxycodone can result in upper respiratory tract and lung damage, inhalation pneumonitis and bacterial pneumonias. In a study conducted in 2013, researchers found a close connection between smoking opioids and developing a chronic lung condition like COPD.[17]


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:

  • HIV: Sharing needles with someone who has HIV can mean injecting the virus directly into your body. Researchers say people who inject drugs account for one in 10 HIV cases in the United States.[11]
  • Hepatitis C: Sharing needles can also mean injecting this virus into your body. Since many cases of hepatitis C have no symptoms, it’s almost impossible to know how many people who inject drugs have it. However, researchers say many cases are directly tied to sharing needles.[12]
  • Bacterial bloodstream infections: Bacteria can enter the body at the injection site and get into the bloodstream, leading to serious infections, sepsis and even death. In one study, researchers found that people who inject drugs had a medication-resistant infection.[13]
  • Tissue damage: Injecting the skin can lead to ulcer formation, scarring, gangrene and permanent tissue damage. Researchers say festering wounds are common in people who use drugs with a needle, and often, people don’t get the help they need.[14]

How to Help Someone Dealing With Oxycodone Misuse

Oxycodone misuse can be fatal. While talking about the issue can be awkward, the conversation you have could literally save a life.

Follow these tips to discuss oxycodone misuse with someone in need:[10]

  1. Choose the time and place. Don’t talk to the person when they’re likely to be intoxicated, and don’t confront them in a public place. Preserve the person’s privacy and ensure they’re ready to listen.
  2. Explain what you’ve seen. Outline the signs and symptoms of drug misuse you’ve witnessed firsthand. Talk about how these issues make you feel and why you want the person to get better.
  3. Prepare for reactions. The person may have plenty to say in response, and it’s your job to listen carefully.
  4. Offer to help. Explain that you’d like to help the person get better. Perhaps you could help to find a treatment center or support group meeting.
  5. Be ready to repeat. Some people want to go into treatment right away, and others need time. Don’t be afraid to bring the subject up again as needed.

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.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... 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.
  9. Opioid Overdose. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 2023. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  10. Helping a Friend with an Addiction. University of Rochester Medical Center. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  11. Injection Drug Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 16, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  12. Hepatitis C in Injection-Drug Users: A Hidden Danger of the Opioid Epidemic. The New England Journal of Medicine. March 29, 2018. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  13. Bacterial and Fungal Infections in Persons Who Inject Drugs: Western New York, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 5, 2019. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  14. Wounds and Skin and Soft Tissue Infections in People Who Inject Drugs and the Utility of Syringe Service Programs in Their Management. Advances in Wound Care. October 2021. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  15. Recurrent and Massive Life-Threatening Epistaxis due to Nasal Heroin Usage. Clinical and Experimental Otorhinolaryngology. September 2011. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  16. The Effects of Opioids on the Lung. Allergy and Immunology. May 2023. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  17. Poster Sessions. Thorax. 2013. Accessed February 14, 2024.

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