OxyContin effects range from pain management to full scale drug addiction. Like all opioids, OxyContin has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Even pain patients who use the drug as prescribed are advised not to suddenly stop taking OxyContin, but rather gradually reduce the dosage to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Under the prescribed dosage, OxyContin is an effective pain reliever. However, when crushed and snorted or injected, OxyContin effects include a quick and powerful "high" that some abusers compare to the feeling they get when doing heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in some areas of the country, OxyContin abuse rates are actually higher than heroin abuse.
OxyContin is an opioid agonist. Opioid agonists are some of the most effective pain relievers available. Unlike other analgesics, opioid agonists have an increasing analgesic effect with increased doses. Meaning that the more you take, the better you feel. Other analgesics, like aspirin or acetaminophen, have a threshold to their effectiveness. Due to its dosage related effects medication like OxyContin can be very beneficial, particularly for people who suffer chronic pain. It can potentially provide up to four times the relief of a non-opioid analgesic, so even the most severe degree of pain can be managed.
Once the medication enters the body, OxyContin effects work by stimulating opioid receptors that are located throughout the central nervous system, in the brain, and along the spinal cord. When OxyContin binds to the opioid receptors, a variety of physiologic responses can occur. Responses range from pain relief, to slowed breathing, to euphoria.
When OxyContin is abused it can be dangerously addictive, much like other opiates and opioids. Rather than ingesting the pill as indicated, people who abuse OxyContin use other methods of administering the drug. To avoid the controlled-release mechanism they may chew, snort, or inject the medication to get an instant and intense "high." Frequent and repeated use of the drug can cause the user to develop a tolerance to OxyContin effects, so larger doses are required to elicit the desired sensation and the abuser gets increasingly addicted to the drug.
When an OxyContin patient or "recreational" drug user exceeds a maximal dosage recommendation, they are entering into the later stages of the "drug abuse cycle." This is when problems like heart rate slowing, breathing problems, confusion, clamminess, dilation of the pupils, weakness and fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, and loss of consciousness often come into play. In addition, OxyContin effects (or more precisely, the Oxycodone in OxyContin) change the chemical makeup of the brain and reroute certain neural pathways. Effects on the neural pathways may wear off several months after OxyContin detox, although more scientific evidence needs to be collected about whether or not OxyContin related brain changes can ever be completely undone.
Perhaps most frightening is the fact that post-detox OxyContin addicts remember their last dosages and often persist on the belief that they will forever need high doses of this drug to regain euphoric OxyContin effects. However, tolerance wears off and the body reasserts to its opiate naive state. If a recovering OxyContin addict reverts to abuse patterns weeks or months after becoming clean, a high dosage can lead to massive overdose, acute respiratory failure, and sometimes even death.