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OTC & Prescription Drugs

OxyContin ® and Oxycodone

Oxycodone is an extremely dangerous drug, and yet the federal government considers it one of the most widely abused drugs among teenagers today. One in twenty of all high school seniors have tried oxycodone, and its use keeps increasing.1 It is common: doctors write out more than six million prescriptions for it a year.2

Because it is time-released, if you crush it before you ingest it, you can die because you will get too much at once. Teens usually crush it.

Oxycodone is a painkiller. Abusing oxycodone is like abusing heroin because both are opioids and highly addictive.3

The street names for oxycodone are OC, OX, Oxy, Oxycotton, Hillbilly heroin, and Blue.

It is a Schedule II narcotic analgesic, which means you can only obtain it through a doctor's prescription. If you are caught possessing or using this drug without a doctor's prescription or selling it illegally, you can go to jail in some states for twenty years or more.

Forms and Brands
Generic oxycodone is an oval, light green pill marked "33" on one side and "93" on the other. The bottle is white with a flat top and light and dark blue designs, including the word "TEVA" on the bottle. The bottle has the words "Oxycodone Hydrochloride extended-release tablets" written in black capital letters.

Purdue Pharmacies make OxyContin ®, the prescription version of oxycodone, in strengths of 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, 80 mg and 160 mg. All of these have the letters OC on one side and numbers on the other side corresponding to the strength of the pill. For example, the 10 mg pill has OC on one side and "10" on the other. The 10 mg pill is white and very small, about the size of a baby aspirin.4

The 20 mg pill is pink and slightly bigger (about a quarter inch); the 40 mg is gold and slightly bigger still, and the 80 mg is light green and bigger yet (between a quarter and a half inch). The 160 mg pill is oval-shaped and more than one-half inch long with OC on one side and 160 on the other.

These pills look alike. Some teens don't realize that they are getting four times as much oxycodone from the gold pill compared to the white one.

Purdue Pharmacy's OxyContin ® bottle is white with a flat top, and it has black lettering and trim that matches the color of the pills. There is also a large colored backwards C with two 1s on the front.

Effects and Use
Doctors are only supposed to prescribe oxycodone if someone has long-term pain, usually from cancer, but also from injuries, bursitis, dislocations, fractures, neuralgia, arthritis, or lower back pain, and rarely for pain after surgeries. This drug is a time-released painkiller and a cousin to morphine.

When someone in severe pain takes oxycodone, he feels relief from pain. However, when a teen takes it to get high, his body reacts differently. He will feel a rush of euphoria and joy, then relaxation. Some teens say it feels "warm, fuzzy and wonderful."

Dangers and Risks
Oxycodone is a time-released drug, but teens want to bypass the time-release function and use the drug to get an immediate "high" or "brain rush." Some teens simply chew and swallow it. Others crush it and mix it into their drinks. Still others crush it and then breathe (snort) it into their bodies or add water and inject it with a syringe. These ways of using oxycodone can cause death.

The United States Justice Department, Office of Drug Enforcement Administration collected 1304 reports from medical examiners about people whose deaths involved oxycodone between the years 2001 and 2002. Of these, 464 were classified as oxycodone-likely or verified deaths, and 485 involved oxycodone combined with other drugs or alcohol.5 The rest were eliminated because the people who died were also victims of AIDS, cancer, suicide or assault.

Oxycodone can damage vital organs, including the liver and kidneys, and have other bad effects on your teen's health. However, the real danger of oxycodone is addiction (see below). Addiction can happen quickly, often within a week or two of using this drug. It usually requires professional intervention.

Signs of Use
Oxycodone is expensive, about $20 to $400 a pill, depending on where you live. Parents often find out about their teens' addictions when their children steal money from them, cash out savings accounts, run up credit cards, and sell video game sets, clothing, jewelry and other items, including other prescription drugs.6

Teens with an oxycodone habits are secretive. They may carry their pills in breath mint boxes or Pez dispensers. If they are injecting the drug, parents often notice boils, abscesses, and skin infections.

Teens with oxycodone dependencies have low energy levels. They are sleepy and nod off during the day. They seem apathetic and confused. Other symptoms are cold, clammy skin, dizziness, slow breathing, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and small, pinpoint pupils.7

Overdose
Oxycodone affects the part of the body that regulates breathing. If you overdose, your breathing rate can slow to the point of death. Symptoms of an oxycodone overdose are slow breathing, seizures, dizziness, confusion, mental cloudiness, anorexia, muscle weakness, loss of consciousness, coma, cold and clammy skin, small pupils, and dry mouth.8 Other symptoms that occur less often are itching, skin rashes, heavy sweating, distant look, slurred speech, headaches, and sleepiness.

A teen overdosing on oxycodone can appear drunk, but he needs immediate medical attention at an Emergency Room. Doctors usually have to hook the teen up to a respirator.9

Withdrawal and Treatment
When a teen tries to stop using oxycodone on his own, he will often get so sick he has to stay in bed. One boy described the head pain like "someone is taking a hammer to the inside of your head."10 Other symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, chills alternating with cold sweats, heart palpitations, muscle and joint pain, coughing, insomnia, yawning, depression, and watery eyes.11

The symptoms are so bad that many teens go back to using. Some switch to heroin, because it is much cheaper (about $5 a dose).

The Internet is full of homemade, herbal remedies that teens share with each other for oxycodone withdrawal. However, the majority of teens will need professional help.

Doctors who treat oxycodone addictions and dependencies often prescribe synthetic opiates and anti-anxiety drugs to gradually ease teens off the drug.

Besides drug therapy, most teens need to enter drug rehabilitation programs, on either an outpatient or residential basis. The advantage of residential treatment is that it removes the teen from his drug environment and provides round-the-clock intervention. Depending on the teen's level of dependency and emotional problems, he may choose a short-term wilderness program or a residential boarding school. During rehab, teens undergo counseling to learn how to deal with their cravings and relapses, and to plan for productive, drug-free lives. Once they return home, they require follow-up care that often includes continued individual counseling and support meetings.

Footnotes
1Arnold, Chris. "Teen Abuse of Pain Killers On Rise," National Public Radio, December 2005, see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5061674
2U.S. Justice Department, Office of Drug Administration website information at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/oxycodone/oxycontin_faq.htm#4
3"Prescription Drug Abuse: A Serious Problem," Partnership for a Drug-Free America at http://www.drugfree.org/portal/drugissue/features/prescription_medicine_misuse
4"OxyContin," in the Physicians Desk Reference, 62nd Edition, (New York: Thomson HealthCare) 2008.
5U.S. Justice Department, Office of Drug Administration website information at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/oxycodone/oxycontin7.htm
6Arnold, op cit.
7"Facts about OxyContin" Narc-Anon, see http://www.addictionca.com/index.htm
8"OxyContin," in the Physicians Desk Reference, 62nd Edition, op cit.
9"Facts about OxyContin," op cit.
10Arnold, op cit.
11"Facts about OxyContin," op cit, also Physicians Desk Reference, op cit.