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Article Summary

Oxycontin Overdose

Addiction to opioid painkillers like OxyContin is rapidly growing in the United States. The widespread abuse of some of these substances has been reaching epidemic proportions in recent years. As a direct result, many treatment professionals and influential players in government are now working actively to find ways to stop addiction to these drugs. While some are trying to raise awareness of the dangers of using these drugs, others are limiting access judiciously.

For instance, deaths from overdosing on prescription opioids has risen dramatically since 2000 - with over 14,000 deaths reported in 2014. Among these drugs is OxyContin, which is sold as an extended released painkiller based on oxycodone. The substance is prescribed in different doses for the treatment of significantly chronic and severe pain conditions.

Although the drug comes with several legitimate medical uses, some people seek it out for abuse. Non-medically, therefore, OxyContin is used to help the user achieve a happy and pleasurable high.

However, this nonmedical use may cause you to take the substance in large quantities, consume it through alternate modes of administration, and ingest it in ways that will override the controlled release mechanism, or take it without a prescription or oversight from a physician. When this happens, OxyContin can prove dangerous and even lead to a fatal overdose.

Overdosing on this drug will occur when you intentionally or accidentally take too much of it. Unintentional overdose may happen when you feel that you are not experiencing adequate pain relief when you follow your doctor's prescription. On the other hand, intentional overdose happens when you know how potent the drug is and you still try to get high or take your own life by ingesting extra pills.

Read on to learn more about OxyContin and its potential for overdose:

About Oxycontin

At its most basic, OxyContin is a synthetic opioid commonly prescribed for the treatment of pain. As a time release form of oxycodone, it is also used for non-medical purposes by close to 2% of people over the age of 12.

On the other hand, the rates of overdose from opioids like OxyContin has been increasing by 200% from 2000 to 2014. This makes the drug especially dangerous for doctors prescribing it and users taking the medication.

Additionally, close to 19000 people died after overdosing on prescription opioids such as OxyContin in 2014. Therefore, you can be sure that an overdose might prove fatal unless you get it treated promptly.

The factors that tend to lead to such tragedies may develop gradually. For instance, if you use OxyContin consistently, you may develop tolerance to it. When this happens, your body will become used to the medication meaning that your usual dose may prove ineffective at treating pain.

At times, this might cause you to start increasing your dose even without approval from your doctor. Doing this, however, will increase your risk of suffering an overdose from the drug.

In most cases, using OxyContin often causes dependence to develop rather quickly. At this point, your body will start needing the medication to function normally. This phenomenon might eventually lead to an addiction. This is why doctors recommend that you use the drug with caution and according to the guidelines of your prescription.

In fact, overdose from OxyContin might happen even if you are taking the drug exactly as your doctor prescribed. However, the instances of overdose are more common if you abuse the drug.

Common Signs Of Oxycodone Abuse

As we mentioned earlier, OxyContin comes with a rather high potential for tolerance, dependence, abuse, and eventual addiction. Since it works by depressing the CNS (central nervous system), people who abuse this drug might present some signs that are specific and easy to identify. These signs include:

  • Changes in speech
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Mood changes
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

On the other hand, when you increase your use of OxyContin, you may suffer additional side effects that might be deadly. For instance, you might experience respiratory arrest and profoundly slowed breathing.

Additional signs that your abuse of the drug has developed into an active and serious addiction include intense cravings for it and continued use in spite of the negative consequences it has on your life. These signs may point to the fact that you are on the way to suffering an overdose.

Oxycontin Overdose

Overdosing on OxyContin will mostly occur when you take too much of the medication in a relatively short time period, or if you combine it with another intoxicating substance. In case you feel a sudden extreme and overwhelming fatigue or you develop problems with breathing, you might be suffering an overdose and you need to call 911 in the shortest time possible.

On the other hand, if you notice that your friend has passed out and you have a hard time waking up - or if they exhibit shallow breathing, a slow heartbeat, and bluish tints on their lips and fingernails, they might be overdosing on OxyContin - especially if you know that they might have taken the drug quite recently. In this situation, the first thing you should do is call 911 immediately.

When you use opioid painkillers like OxyContin in excessive amounts or for a prolonged period, you might experience diminishing levels of consciousness, slowed or depressed breathing, and a general lack of essential oxygen to your brain. Another distinct possibility with most opioid overdoses is death.

Although most of the overdose deaths related to opioids frequently involve a mix of opioids - both illicit and prescription - sedatives, and alcohol, you might overdose when you take too much of the medication.

Since doctors sometimes prescribe hydrocodone and oxycodone together, these two culprits might be cause an overdose death. More recently, however, illicit fentanyl and its analogues are becoming increasingly implicated in the fatal overdoses arising from opioid use and abuse.

When you are addicted to opioid prescription drugs like OxyContin, you may develop tolerance to it. As a direct result, you might feel that you need to take more of the medication to achieve the same desired effects that you are looking for.

On the other hand, if you are severely dependent on OxyContin, you may find that you need the drug just to feel normal and function like you ordinarily do. While trying to chase the effects of the drug, however, you can take too much of it and experience an overdose.

However, your OxyContin overdose might also be accidental, such as when you misread your prescription or completely forget that you have already taken your medication and add to what is inside your system.

Risk Factors For Oxycontin Overdose

The only way you can avoid overdosing on OxyContin is by choosing to forgo all oxycodone medications and products. However, if your doctor prescribes it, the next best thing you can do is to closely stick to the guidelines of your prescription - including but not limited to the frequency of dosing and the dose. By so doing, you should effectively be able to drastically minimize the risk of suffering an overdose.

Some of the risk factors for overdosing on this medication include:

a) Abusing It

When you abuse this drug, on the other hand, you may put yourself at higher risk of suffering a fatal overdose. In most cases, abuse refers to taking the drug in ways other than your doctor intended - such as if you use it intravenously or crush the pills and snort the powder.

Alternatively, you might take the drug without a doctor's prescription or use a dose that is higher than was prescribed. All these factors will eventually increase your risk of suffering an overdose.

b) Tolerance

When your abuse of the drug starts escalating, you might start needing higher doses to achieve the effects that you desire. This is referred to as building tolerance to the effects of the drug, and it might cause you to take a dose that is much higher than the typical prescription standards, further increasing your risk of an overdose.

In the same way, if you relapse back to using OxyContin, your risk will shoot up. This is because your tolerance for the drug may reset if you stay away from it for an extended period. As a direct result, your body might no longer be able to tolerate a high level of the medication, which it may once have been accustomed to. Therefore, taking the same dose you used to ingest when your tolerance was higher might overwhelm your body leading to an overdose.

c) Mixing Intoxicating Substances

On the other hand, you might combine OxyContin with other intoxicating substances - particularly benzodiazepines and alcohol. However, this combination - especially if it involves other depressants - might cause negative interacting effects.

Whether opposing or additive in nature, the interacting effects might cause serious and life threatening consequences, which could potential increase your risk of an overdose. Apart from the risk that is attached to opioids, mixing medications that contain acetaminophen particularly with alcohol may severely compound your risk of organ damage, which especially affects the liver.

d) Others

The other factors that could increase your risk of overdosing on OxyContin including:

  • Age, which means that the elderly have a higher overdose risk
  • Buying it on the street, a situation in which you won't know the strength or purity of the batch of drugs you get
  • Mixing OxyContin with other prescription medications, street drugs, or alcohol
  • Relapsing after a short or long period of relative withdrawal from the drug
  • Taking large amounts of the drug in a relatively short time period
  • Taking the medication in any other way than your doctor prescribed, such as by injecting, crushing, or snorting it
  • Tolerance, meaning that everyone overdoses on different doses of OxyContin because of varying levels of tolerance

Symptoms Of Oxycontin Overdose

Overdosing on OxyContin means that you have ingested more of the medication than your body can physiologically handle. This may effectively poison your system and impair some of your life preserving bodily functions to such an extent that it proves potentially life-threatening and dangerous.

However, some people may overdose on the drug accidentally - particularly children. This may happen if you swallow pills that you find laying around. Still, most people overdose as a result of using this medication recreationally. In this case, they might combine it with other drugs or alcohol, leading to sudden overdose.

On the other hand, you might overdose intentionally when you try to cause yourself harm, increase the pleasurable effects of the drug, or commit suicide.

Either way, the symptoms of an OxyContin overdose will vary from one person to the next and will depend on the amount of the medication that was taken. These signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Breathing problems
  • Clammy skin
  • Cold skin
  • Cold sweat
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Cyanotic appearance, or a bluish tint to the fingernails and the lips
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Fainting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Narrow pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed pulse
  • Stopped breathing

After overdosing on OxyContin, your brain activity may slow down to such an extent that your body will not receive the vital signals it needs informing it to pump blood or breath. This situation can only be solved through immediate emergency medical intervention particularly because it comes with the potential of resulting in widespread injury to vital organs such as the brain, as well as those that depend on your body supplying a steady and fresh supply of oxygen and blood.

Oxycontin Overdose Deaths

In some instances, overdosing on OxyContin can prove fatal. With proper emergency medical intervention, however, you might survive. Still, such an overdose could also lead to long term or permanent complications, including but not limited to:

  • Muscle damage, which might happen if you overdose and end up lying on the ground or any other hard surface too long
  • Permanent brain damage as a result of lacking a supply of oxygen to the brain over a long time period
  • Pneumonia

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that over 1000 people check into emergency medical departs on a daily basis as a result of misusing prescription opioid medications. Additionally, it shows that over 14000 Americans lost their lives in 2014 as a result of overdosing on prescription opioids like OxyContin.

Dealing With An Oxycontin Overdose

In case you experience (or someone you know experiences) any of the symptoms of an OxyContin overdose, the first thing you should do is call 911 or poison control or ambulance hotline immediately.

Once the emergency first responders arrive, you need to tell them the age, height, and weight of the patient, as well as if they have other preexisting medical conditions. You should also inform them when they last took the drug and the dosage, if this information is available to you. If you know where the drug is, you should also give it to the first responders.

Other information that you should provide to the overdose response team include:

  • The name, weight, and age of the victim
  • How they appear and the symptoms that they have started exhibiting
  • The amount and strength of the medication they took
  • How and when they ingested OxyContin
  • Whether the drug was prescribed for them

As you continue waiting for the emergency medical team to arrive, you need to roll the victim to one side. This will protect them from choking on their own vomit - a likely even since they would probably still be unconscious when this happen. On the other hand, if they are still conscious, you need to keep them talking and awake.

If at all possible, you should never leave someone who has potentially overdosed on OxyContin on their own. This is because their symptoms may worsen rather quickly. For instance, if they are still conscious, they may choose to wander away and end up hurting themselves. However, in case they are unconscious, they might stop breathing and no one will know.

After the OxyContin overdose victims gets to the emergency room, their stomach might be pumped or doctors may try to induce vomiting. This form of treatment is designed to expel the medication from the body.

Alternatively, the medical team might also administer the patient with activated charcoal, which works to absorb all traces of the substance still remaining in the patient's stomach.

On the other hand, the victim might be administered with naloxone, a drug that works to counteract most of the effects that OxyContin causes. Additionally, the doctor might administer other treatments for the overdose, including defibrillation and oxygen masks.

The other treatments that doctors might perform to save the life of an OxyContin overdose victim include, but are not limited to:

  • Acetylcysteine administration in case of the potential for severe acetaminophen toxicity
  • Activated charcoal administration for minimizing the chances that their bodies will absorb more of the ingested intoxicants
  • Airway management or intubation that ensures that they can still breathe
  • Gastric lavage, which is also referred to as stomach pumping as might be performed with charcoal administration
  • Naloxone administration
  • Treatment for potential cardiac arrest in case of any heart problems
  • Venous line access for the intravenous administration of fluids; this is designed to stabilize the victim's hydration as well as correct any hypoglycemia or electrolyte imbalances arising from lack of proper intake or from vomiting

Treatment For Oxycodone Overdose

Most of the deaths that occur following an OxyContin overdose happen because the patient may have stopped breathing. Therefore, when doctors attempt to treat such an overdose, their main objective might to ensure that the patient's airways are always open. This way, they will be able to breath with assistance or on their own.

The doctors might also administer medications like naloxone, which are effective at preventing respiration depression. In other instances, they may provide vasopressors and oxygen. This is designed to manage and prevent pulmonary edema and circulatory shock.

On the other hand, if arrhythmias or cardiac arrest becomes apparent, the emergency response team may use defibrillation or cardiac massage to counteract these adverse symptoms of an OxyContin overdose.

Today, there are several widespread myths surrounding what you should when someone has overdosed on drugs like Oxy. Some of them, for instance, claim that you should put the victim into a cold bath or shower, restrain their limbs, or force them to drink milk or coffee.

As you can probably imagine, all these are just myths and should never guide your reaction. After all, you certainly don't want to put their life in jeopardy because you read about something on the internet or heard it from someone. The best thing you can do is to call 911 immediately you spot someone potentially overdosing on the drug.

Treatment for an oxycodone overdose needs to start at the earliest possible opportunity. Naloxone is the primary treatment used to deal with the symptoms of an OxyContin overdose.

As a fast acting opioid antagonist that goes by the Narcan brand name, Naloxone works by effectively counteracting most of the effects of the medication that caused the overdose, including OxyContin and other opioid drugs. It does so at the level of the opioid receptors in the body.

Doctors will most likely administer this antagonist through injection. In most cases, the lifesaving effects of naloxone may start after a minute or so and last for about 45 minutes. Of course, more of it may be required depending on the amount and potency of the drugs you took.

Naloxone is effective because it counteracts any potential depression that OxyContin might have caused to your respiratory system and central nervous system. However, it may also send you into opioid withdrawal if you are severely addicted to Oxy.

After you stabilize and leave the emergency room and the hospital, you might want to reevaluate your life and start looking for additional help on how to stop using OxyContin. Substance abuse treatment, in particular, may ensure that you fully address your problem and decrease the chances of suffering another overdose in the future.

However, you should keep in mind that the risk of relapse - where you continue abusing this medication - is high especially if you do not get the consistent long term support, treatment, rehabilitation, and aftercare you need. This is why it is so essential that you opt to commit to your treatment until you are fully sober and can function normally without Oxy in your system.

Recovering From Oxycontin Overdose

If your overdose is treated immediately as an emergency medical problem, you might recover. However, when you overdose, it might mean that you have an active substance use disorder and that you are either dependent on or addicted to the drug.

To ensure that you never overdose again, as well as deal with the other long term effects and consequences of abusing medications like OxyContin - it may be useful for you to check into a recovery center for professional addiction treatment.

Some of the treatment and recovery options that exist for people who are still struggling with oxycodone abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction include:

a) 12 Step Programs

12 step groups - such as Pills Anonymous and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) - will provide you with the linear process of recovery and peer support system you need to overcome your addiction to OxyContin.

The support from the group and the structure of treatment may help you as you undergo treatment. They may, additionally, provide you with the ongoing aftercare you need to ensure that you never relapse.

b) Inpatient/Residential Rehabilitation

Rehab at an inpatient or residential center is one of the most effective options for the long term treatment of OxyContin abuse and addiction. Through such a program, you will typically be required to stay at the treatment center.

During your stay, you will get opportunities to work towards lifelong abstinence. You may also benefit from the safe and sober environment provided through inpatient rehabilitation.

Additionally, you may have to be inside the facility for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The treatment will typically span anywhere from 30 to 90 days - or even more - on an as needed basis.

Since you will spend all your time inside the center, you may be better placed to be able to focus more - or even exclusively - on your full recovery. It also means that you can effectively avoid stressors and triggers that often cause you to abuse OxyContin.

That said, inpatient rehabilitation uses a variety of treatments, including but not limited to:

  • Individual counseling and therapy
  • Group counseling and therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Detoxification
  • Medication maintenance treatment
  • Complementary-alternative therapies like music therapy, art therapy, acupuncture, and meditation

c) Medication-Assisted Treatment

This form of therapy involves using medications like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone in conjunction with therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Through these drugs, you can effective reduce your cravings for OxyContin and withdrawal symptoms. This is because they act on the same receptors that Oxy works on inside the brain.

d) Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient rehabilitation provides most of the same options of treatment as an inpatient or residential facility would offer. However, you will get the opportunity to continue staying at home. This means that you only receive treatment for OxyContin abuse and addiction on a part time basis.

Outpatient treatment is particularly effective and ideal for anyone with a less severe addiction. It also works for those who wish to continue attending school or work, or engaging in their usual daily professional and personal lives even as they seek rehabilitation for their substance use disorder.

Both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs will provide you with valuable therapy, counseling, and education to help propel you towards the path leading to full recovery, sobriety, and abstinence.

With prompt and proper recovery treatment and medical care, the prognosis for OxyContin overdose is quite good. This is despite the fact that the symptoms from overdosing on this drug can prove fatal.

Preventing Oxycontin Overdose

One of the best ways to ensure that you avoid an OxyContin overdose is choosing to never take this drug unless you are following your doctor's prescription and express instructions. However, if you are addicted to the medication already, you should seek immediate help through inpatient or outpatient treatment before it culminates into an overdose.

In most cases, the first step towards ensuring that you never have to overdose on OxyContin is by getting help for your substance use disorder. This vital step will ensure that you receive formal treatment and help so that you eventually step out of the recursive cycle of regular and compulsive OxyContin use.

Through treatment, you will also get the opportunity to start working on leading a healthier life free of drugs. Additionally, you will benefit from the skill development, education, counseling, and therapy at the rehabilitation facility. In the long run, you may even be able to learn how to break the bonds of Oxy abuse while simultaneously stopping an overdose even before it happens.

As we mentioned earlier, the most popular treatment options for OxyContin addiction, dependence, tolerance, and abuse include inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and therapy.

However, you can also work with a self-help group - such as 12 step and non12 step groups. These groups may provide you with the community reinforcement and social support you need to be able to continue maintaining your sobriety and living without OxyContin - even when you are faced by temptations, stressors, and triggers that would otherwise have compelled you to abuse the drug. Narcotics Anonymous, in particular, is an effective self-help group that could potentially help you overcome any previous Oxy overdoses as well as prevent them from happening in the future.

Concluding Thoughts

Overdosing on drugs - particularly OxyContin - may potentially be the most frightening and life threatening experience of your life. However, if you do survive, it should compel you to seek the help you need.

Still, you do not have to wait until you suffer an overdose episode to tell that you have a substance use disorder involving oxycodone. Go for assessment and tests to find out and get treatment through rehabilitation in case you have such a problem. The earlier you do this, the easier life will be for you and the sooner you will overcome your addiction to and abuse of OxyContin.

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