WHAT IS OXYCODONE?
Oxycodone, typically sold under the brand name OxyContin, is an opioid primarily prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain. It was first synthesized in a German laboratory in Frankfurt in the early twentieth century by Freund and Speyer at the University of Frankfurt. It first entered clinical trials in 1917 a year after development, and subsequently appeared on the US market a few decades later. Oxycodone became the “miracle drug of the 30’s” worldwide. In fact, it became the Wehrmacht’s choice of anaesthesia in battlefield injuries. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that Purdue Pharma, a private company in the United States, developed Oxycontin which was heavily revered by medical professionals and patients suffering from moderate to severe pain.
Indeed, oxycodone is a promising analgesic for some of living with moderate to severe pain. Despite that, it is part of the current epidemic of prescription opiate abuse among teenagers and adults. From this moment on, we will be writing about oxycodone from the context of problematic use. As previously alluded to, it is effective in relieving pain in some individuals who live with chronic pain. Although possible, addiction is not necessarily an appropriate consideration for those who require the drug for the purpose of treating chronic pain. However, we will touch upon short-term prescribing of oxycodone and its potential for problematic use in individuals who do not require it for chronic pain-related purposes.
Canada is the world’s second highest user of opioids per capita. This includes both problematic and medicinal use. Although oxycodone is prescribed to relieve pain, many individuals take it for recreational purposes. Addiction is oxycodone spiked when a long acting dosage form of it called “Oxycotin” hit the market. Although it was meant for slow release over a long period of time, some individuals began administering the drug in other ways (e.g., crushing, chewing, IV). In turn, this changed the rate of which the drug entered the body. In this case, more rapidly. In turn, this created a heroin-like euphoria which many people became hooked to.
Like other opioids, addiction to oxycodone is largely dependent on tolerance and withdrawal. Within the context of addiction, an individual initially takes oxycodone and experiences euphoria. This may last a few hours. When the drug begins to leave the body, equal but opposite reactions begin to occur. The individual no longer feels euphoria and their mood may dip lower than before they took the drug. This creates the sensation of craving, typically leading the individual to seek out more of the drug. With continued use, tolerance begins to build, and users must self-administer more of the drug to achieve their desired effects of the drug. Gradually, this can lead to overdose or behaviours that seek out more potent and dangerous drugs.
SHORT-TERM EFFECTS AND RISKS
The short-term effects of oxycodone include: temporary relief from pain, euphoria, sedation, a reduction in anxiety, relaxation, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, constipation, abdominal pain, weakness, headaches, a change in mood, and the possibility of overdose.
The long-term side effects of oxycodone for those with chronic pain may include a reduction in pain. For those abusing the drug, it may lead to kidney and liver failure with continued long-term use. Further, it may alter brain chemistry, thereby making it difficult for individuals to adapt to new input. This may account for compulsivity in some users of oxycodone.
PHARMACOLOGY OF OXYCODONE
Oxycodone is an opioid agonist. In other words, its shape and size are like that of naturally occurring opioids within our brain. Therefore, it can bind to easily bind to opioid receptors in the brain and augment the effects of these naturally occur opioids. When an individual takes oxycodone, there is a “flood” of natural and synthetic opioids in the brain which increases the probability of the receptors being activated. Heightened activation of these receptors leads to a reduction in pain and increased feelings of euphoria.