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Oxycodone is a synthetic opiate commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain. The drug was actually produced in Germany in the early 1900s by chemists who were looking for a replacement drug for heroin.

It was FDA approved in the United States in 1976. Oxycodone is structurally related to codeine and is roughly equivalent in potency to morphine.

Oxycodone, or more specifically oxycodone hydrochloride tablets, is available in 5, 10, 15, 20, and 30 mg tablets.

Oxycodone is classified by the DEA as a Schedule II controlled substance meaning the drug currently has an accepted medical use however, it has severe restrictions. It also means the drug has a high potential for abuse and may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Although the precise mechanism of its analgesic action is not known, oxycodone is believed to bind to opioid receptors in the brain and the central nervous system, reducing both the perception of pain and the body’s emotional response to it.

Oxycodone is often combined with the analgesic drug acetaminophen to produce Percocet, or in combination with aspirin to produce, Percodan.

Oxycodone is one of the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States and one of the most abused prescription drugs.

Based on estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 11 million people will consume at least one of dose of this opioid in a non-medical way. In addition, about 100,000 Americans are admitted to hospitals due to misuse of this drug each year, making it the most widely abused opioid drug in America.

Common side effects associated with oxycodone:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Sedation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth, and
  • Light headedness

Less common side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Changes in mood
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Trouble sleeping, and
  • Sweating

Side effects that require a physician’s attention:

  • Swelling of the face or throat
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Decreased urination
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained fear
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Ringing in the ears, and
  • High or low blood pressure

Oxycodone should not be confused with the brand name drug Oxycontin, first produced by Purdue pharmaceutical in 1996. Oxycontin is a time-released version of oxycodone that can produce symptom relief for 12 or more hours

Oxycontin is also commonly abused for recreational purposes. Oxycontin abusers remove the sustained-release coating to get a rapid release of the medication, causing a rush of euphoria similar to that of heroin.

Since oxycodone is such a powerful opiate addiction and dependence are common, particularly when the time-release form of the drug, Oxycontin, is abused.

Signs of dependence or addiction to oxycodone or Oxycontin:

  • Constantly thinking about the drug
  • Obtaining multiple prescriptions for the drug
  • Feeling phantom pains when the drug is not available
  • Restless thoughts or behaviors
  • Lying or stealing to obtain more of the drug
  • Using the drug in secret

“In September 2013, the FDA released new labeling guidelines for Oxycontin requiring manufacturers to remove “moderate pain” as indication for usage, instead stating the drug is for "pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, opioid treatment. The updated labeling will not restrict physicians from prescribing opioids for moderate, as needed usage.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Oxycodone is intended to be used for a few weeks at a time; using it for longer periods can cause serious health problems including:

Tolerance. Oxycodone is physically addicting, which means that the body needs higher amounts of the drug over time in order to experience the same effects. This puts one at higher risk for respiratory failure.

Respiratory distress. Since oxycodone works by slowing down the respiratory system, users may experience respiratory distress if taken for a long period of time. Symptoms of respiratory distress include difficulty breathing, lightheadedness and dizziness from a lack of oxygen.

Physical dependence. Long-term oxycodone users may feel physically ill if they do not take the drug.

For more information about opiates and opiate dependence call, 800-890-1956 or visit Opiate Addiction Treatment.

Source material: U.S. FDA,, ,

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