As the opioid epidemic continues to surge across the country, rates of Oxycontin abuse and addiction have soared. Though it is available as a prescription for pain relief, many people take the drug against their doctor’s directions in order to get high. As with other forms of drug misuse, the misuse of Oxycontin (the brand name of the opioid oxycodone) can lead to overdose, death and a wide range of medical, financial and social problems.

How Is Oxycontin Abused?

Oxycontin is safe when used as prescribed by a medical professional. Misuse occurs when Oxycontin and other forms of oxycodone are used in a way that is not directed by a doctor. This may include taking a higher dose than needed or continuing to take Oxycontin after it is no longer needed for pain relief.

Oxycontin is a specific formulation of oxycodone that is designed to be slow-release. This means that it dissolves and is absorbed into the bloodstream slowly, over the course of about 12 hours. Some people who misuse Oxycontin consume it in ways that accelerate its absorption, giving it a half-life of only about 3.5 hours.

When people crush slow-release Oxycontin tablets into powder, they can then consume it by:

  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Dissolving and injecting

Signs of Oxycontin Addiction

People who abuse Oxycontin may exhibit certain signs and symptoms. These may be either physical or behavioral in nature. It is important to know the signs of Oxycontin drug addiction and to watch for them in people suspected of misusing the drug.

Physical Signs

Oxycontin has a number of physical effects on the body. When a person has an Oxycontin addiction and takes more of it than normal, these effects can worsen and become more noticeable to others.

Some of the physical warning signs of Oxycontin abuse include:

  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing rate)
  • Somnolence (extreme sleepiness or drowsiness)
  • Stupor
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Small or constricted pupils
  • Sweating
  • Sleep apnea

These symptoms may become severe in cases of Oxycontin overdose.

Behavioral Signs

Oxycontin misuse can affect a person’s behavior as well. Some of these behaviors are similar to those seen in other forms of drug addiction. Behavioral signs of Oxycontin addiction include:

  • Confusion
  • Filling multiple prescriptions for pain medications
  • Forging prescriptions
  • “Doctor shopping” to find a doctor who will prescribe opioids
  • Stealing painkillers from other people or pharmacies
  • Frequently needing money or engaging in illegal activities to get money

Mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety

Oxycontin Abuse Side Effects

Oxycodone and Oxycontin have several side effects. Many of these can occur in people who take it as directed for pain relief, though they are usually not too severe. Side effects can become much more intense and pronounced when Oxycontin misuse occurs and the drug is taken for long periods of time at higher doses than normal.

The most common short-term side effects of Oxycontin are somnolence (drowsiness or sleepiness), constipation and nausea. Other common short-term effects of Oxycontin use include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pruritus (itchiness)
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthenia (physical weakness)
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)

Oxycontin effects the way neurotransmitters are released in the brain. Over time and with chronic use, Oxycontin can have some long-term side effects on the brain and nervous system. These effects are usually much more severe in cases of Oxycontin abuse.

Long-term neurological side effects of Oxycontin include:

The physical effects of Oxycontin misuse can lead to long-lasting psychological effects as well. If someone overdoses on Oxycontin, they may stop breathing temporarily. Even if for a brief moment, this lack of oxygen to the brain can cause serious long-term brain damage.

Many people who misuse Oxycontin also misuse other substances. When two or more drugs are mixed, they can have compounding effects with stronger side effects than if taken individually. This can be very dangerous and can even lead to death. In fact, most people who die from a drug overdose involving Oxycontin have other drugs in their system.

In particular, mixing alcohol with any type of opioid is a bad idea. Both alcohol and Oxycontin are depressants, meaning that they decrease neurological activity. Mixing Oxycontin and alcohol combines their effects and can cause nerves in some parts of the body to stop sending signals properly. In severe cases, this can cause someone to stop breathing.

Causes of Oxycontin Addiction

Oxycontin triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine causes feelings of happiness and well-being, which is why people get a euphoric high from taking Oxycontin. This dopamine release also activates the brain’s reward center, making it feel very rewarding to take Oxycontin. The behavior of seeking and taking more Oxycontin is reinforced with more dopamine and rewarding feelings, which can drive addiction.

Sometimes, people can develop a tolerance or physical dependence on Oxycontin. This is different from addiction because it is not a psychological need for the drug. Instead, the body becomes accustomed to a particular dose and ends up needing to take increasingly greater amounts to relieve pain.

Related Topic: Oxycodone Addiction

Oxycontin Withdrawal Symptoms

People who have taken Oxycontin for a long time, especially high doses of it, need to taper off of the drug instead of stopping use suddenly. This is because Oxycontin withdrawal can have some serious effects. In cases of Oxycontin misuse, medical detoxification may be necessary to treat the more dangerous Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms. If not properly managed, opioid withdrawal can be fatal.

Symptoms of Oxycontin withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Increased pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Drowsiness
  • Tremors
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

People who have developed a physical dependence may especially be troubled with increased pain when they stop taking the medication.

Related Topic: Oxycodone Withdrawal

Oxycontin Addiction: Facts and Statistics

Oxycontin addiction is a part of the broader opioid epidemic facing the country. The number of people who misuse and die from Oxycontin may be surprising. The latest statistics on Oxycontin abuse show that:

  • Men are more likely to die of prescription opioid overdose than women, and an estimated 9,978 men died of prescription opioid overdose in 2016
  • Women are 40% more likely than men to develop an addiction to prescription opioids
  • 12.9% of teens in their senior year of high school say they have used prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons at some point in their lifetime
  • About one in three Medicare beneficiaries (12 million people) receive a prescription for opioids each
  • From 2006 to 2012, elderly adults accounted for 71,000 emergency department visits and hospitalizations for prescription opioid overdose

Oxycontin addiction is especially problematic in the elderly because older people can have some more severe side effects from Oxycontin misuse than younger people. These include medical problems such as urinary retention (inability to empty the bladder completely) and decreased libido.

Oxycontin Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida

Southern Florida has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. This is partly due to how easy it is to get a prescription for opioid painkillers like Oxycontin in this area. In 2011, doctors in Florida prescribed Oxycontin pills at a rate 10 times higher than the national average. Drug enforcement investigators have found several doctors in southern Florida who were selling Oxycontin prescriptions to anybody willing to pay for one.

Though the Florida government has cracked down on easy opioid prescribing in recent years, Oxycontin misuse still remains a major issue in the area. With prescription opioids becoming less available, people are turning to illicit opioids such as heroin to get their fix. As a result, heroin use and overdoses have skyrocketed.

Fortunately, there are also many high-quality rehabilitation centers in South Florida that offer dedicated help for addiction to Oxycontin and other opioids. Many also provide dual-diagnosis services. These treat both drug addiction and any mental health issues that may be making the situation worse.

Oxycontin Overdose

The amount of Oxycontin it takes to overdose differs according to a person’s metabolism, body size and other medications they may be taking. Even a single dose of slow-release Oxycontin can be fatal if it is taken incorrectly. People who misuse Oxycontin by snorting or injecting it bypass the slow-release mechanism and release all of the drug into their system at once, instead of over the course of 12 hours. This can be enough to cause respiratory failure, and it can make someone stop breathing.

Symptoms of Oxycontin overdose include:

  •     Respiratory depression (slowed breathing rate)
  •     Somnolence (extreme sleepiness or drowsiness)
  •     Stupor or coma
  •     Muscle weakness
  •     Cold or clammy skin
  •     Small or constricted pupils
  •     Pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in the lungs)

An overdose is much more likely to happen if a person is taking other drugs in addition to Oxycontin. Unfortunately, most people who misuse Oxycontin also misuse other substances. Additionally, most people who overdose on Oxycontin have other drugs in their system as well.

If you suspect somebody is having an overdose, IMMEDIATELY call 911.

How to Help Someone Addicted to Oxycontin

If somebody is addicted to Oxycontin, they need to get professional help as soon as possible before its effects become worse or even fatal. If you suspect an overdose is happening, call 911 immediately.


If you suspect somebody has an Oxycontin addiction but they are not having an overdose or other serious side effects, now is the time to have an intervention. You may need to search through a few different rehabilitation centers before you find one that works best for you or your loved one. Intervention and treatment from a professional facility will help them end Oxycontin use safely and learn how to live a healthy life without addiction.

Oxycontin Addiction Treatment Options

Several treatment options for Oxycontin addiction are available, depending on a person’s specific needs. You can choose a program that works best for you or your loved one. The health care providers at the facility will make further assessments to determine what kind of treatment is needed.

Some of the available Oxycontin addiction and misuse treatment options include:

Our Drug Detox and Inpatient Rehab Center

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health

4905 Lantana Rd
Lake Worth, FL 33463


Key Points: Understanding Oxycontin Abuse

Oxycontin abuse occurs when people take Oxycontin for reasons other than pain relief and in ways that are not prescribed by a doctor. Some important points to remember about Oxycontin misuse are:

  • Oxycontin addiction is driven by the euphoric effects of the drug
  • Oxycontin use has several short-term side effects and some serious long-term physical and psychological effects
  • Oxycontin withdrawal can be dangerous if not done with medical help
  • Emergency help (911) is essential if somebody is having an Oxycontin overdose or severe withdrawal
  • Many treatment programs are available for Oxycontin addiction and misuse, including several in South Florida

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to Oxycontin or other substances, specialized help is always available at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health. Contact us today to learn about the personalized, confidential services we offer that can work well for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.