Prescription painkillers, namely opioids like fentanyl, are the main driving component of the drug crisis that we are seeing in the country that claimed the lives of over 70,000 Americans in 2017. All indications point to evidence that this number will only continue to rise as it has over the past decade and more.
Along with fentanyl, drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine have all contributed to this growing problem in the United States. Oxycodone, sometimes referred to by its brand name OxyContin, is one specific opiate and opioid that causes the deaths of thousands of people annually.
OxyContin is one of the most popular prescription drugs that is prescribed for pain relief. The drug can be prescribed and taken in many ways, however, abuse and overdoses most commonly occur when the drug is crushed up and used or when the drug is mixed with others. Some states, in particular, have been disproportionately affected by the drug. Oklahoma is one state that has seen its citizens suffer from oxycodone.
When OxyContin first appeared as a pharmaceutical drug, the popularity was nothing compared to what it is today. Through aggressive marketing campaigns that cost the company millions of dollars in funding and lawsuits, they were able to make OxyContin a multi-billion dollar drug that has gone on to contribute to the opioid crisis that the country is facing.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opiate, the drug is synthesized using opium. It is prescribed under many brand names, most notably OxyContin, for long-term moderate or severe pain relief commonly associated with conditions like cancer and arthritis. Feelings of relaxation and euphoria are the most common effects which explains its high potential for abuse.
The drug has become one of the most widely used drugs of abuse in the drug epidemic that the country is seeing due to is availability and high potential for addiction and abuse associated with the drug.
Oxycodone Addiction and Oklahoma
Oxycontin, the most recognizable form of oxycodone is a drug with high abuse potential and has been linked to a growing number of overdose deaths around the country. As mentioned before the therapeutic effects of the drug are what cause people to misuse and abuse this drug. Oxycodone is similar to other drugs including alcohol and heroin, in that it increases the levels of dopamine in the body, causing the user to experience more intense pleasure.
The prolonged use of the drug can lead to changes in the brain, which can cause a dependence making it much harder for the user to stop. Similarly, users will normally experience withdrawal symptoms that can be severe if stopped abruptly. Some symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, fevers, and more.
There are a number of ways that oxycodone can be used and abused. Generally the drugs are administered via injection into the muscle or blood stream and can be taken orally through pills or tablets. People who abuse the drug will either snort, chew, or inject the drug after crushing the pill into a fine powder. When using drugs this way, the risk of overdose increases significantly.
Generally, oxycodone users will mix the prescription medication with other drugs or alcohol to achieve a greater high, however this method increases the chance of death astronomically.
When taken, OxyContin can remain effective for up to 12 hours. Tablets and pills come in 10, 20, 40, and 80 milligram tablets, with a 160 mg tablet that was suspended due to its severe potential for abuse.
Effects of Oxycodone
If taken under correct prescribing methods and not mixed with other drugs, the patient will experience mild side effects. However, even the OxyContin website acknowledges the fact that users can become addicted even when taking the drug at recommended doses. But, if not taken properly, the drug can prove to be fatal.
Along with the feelings of euphoria and the withdrawal symptoms that those who are dependent upon the drug will experience, there are also a number of side effects and long-term problems associated with prolonged oxycodone abuse. Some of these symptoms include:
- Breathing irregularity
- Heart Failure
- Severe liver damage
- Low Blood Pressure
- Death from cardiac arrest
Oklahoma is one state in specific that has been hit particularly hard by the drug epidemic in general, however, oxycodone is one of the primary drugs of abuse and one of the state leaders in overdose deaths.
According to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, of the 6813 overdose deaths from 2007 to 2016, 1370 of them, or 20 percent, were a result of oxycodone.
Also, while other drugs may have seen some fluctuations in their use, for instance, there was a significant rise in methamphetamine's and a major decline in methadone during this time, oxycodone has remained fairly consistent. The number of deaths did peak in 2013 with 165 but didn’t see too much of a drop in the subsequent three years.
While prescription numbers and opioid overdoses have seemed to plateau in recent years, the problem of addiction in Oklahoma still persists. There have been efforts to curb the opioid abuse in the state but no major results have been seen.
History of Oxycodone and OxyContin
Oxycodone was first synthesized in Germany in 1916, it was first introduced in the United States market in 1939. Oxycodone was classified as a Schedule II drug in the early 1970s. Eventually, the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, a privately held company based in Connecticut, developed the prescription painkiller OxyContin in 1995.
To attain commercial success for the drug, Purdue Pharma engaged in a number of mass marketing campaigns that many considered controversial.
From 1996 to 2001, Purdue conducted more than 40 speaker-training conferences at resorts in Florida, Arizona, and California. More than 5000 physicians and pharmacists attended the events with all of their expenses paid for. These individuals were recruited and trained for the company’s national speaking bureau. A research paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, stated that these types of meetings and enticements influence a physician’s prescribing.
Similarly, during the period between 1996 and 2000, Purdue more than doubled their sales staff, and increased its physician call list by at least 26,000 physicians. Using the expanded sales force, the company encouraged physicians and primary care specialists to prescribe the drug not only for cancer pain but also as an initial treatment for non-cancer pain.
Through sales representatives, Purdue used a starter coupon program that provided patients with a free limited-time prescription for a 7 to 30 day supply. About 34,000 of the coupons had been redeemed across the country.
In 2001 alone, the company spent $200 million on the marketing and promotion of Oxycontin.
In addition to the aggressive promotion strategies the company implemented, Purdue Pharma also misrepresented the risks of addiction that the drug carried. Purdue claimed that the risk of addiction for Oxycontin was extremely small, saying that the risk was “less than one percent”. However, this statistic directly contrasts a number of studies citing the number as high as 45%.
However, misrepresenting these risks ended up costing the company. An affiliate of Purdue Pharma and three company executives pled guilty to criminal charges of misbranding OxyContin and were ordered to pay $634 million in fines in 2007.
“Nearly six years and longer ago, some employees made, or told other employees to make, certain statements about OxyContin to some health care professionals that were inconsistent with the F.D.A.-approved prescribing information for OxyContin and the express warnings it contained about risks associated with the medicine,” the company said in a statement following the lawsuit The statements also violated written company policies requiring adherence to the prescribing information. We accept responsibility for those past misstatements and regret that they were made,”
However, the damage was already done. In 1996, Purdue Pharma dispensed 316,000 prescriptions worth $44 million but due to their marketing tactics that number jumped to over 14 million prescriptions worth $3 billion in 2001 and 2002 combined.
The money that Purdue would make through OxyContin over the next decade and more would soon dwarf the fines that the company was ordered to pay.
Also, despite the lawsuit and fines, OxyContin prescriptions don’t seem to have lost much steam. According to the New York Times, the prescriptions for oxycodone rose by 82 percent from 2007 to 2010.
However, the company has been the subject to subsequent lawsuits, including one filed in September by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman.
“Purdue unleashed a surge of prescription opioids on Coloradans while hiding the facts about their drugs’ addictive properties,” said Attorney General Coffman. “Their corporate focus on making money took precedence over patients’ long-term health, and Colorado has been paying the price in loss of life and devastation of its communities as they struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis.”
Similarly, Oklahoma’s Attorney General has also filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. The lawsuit accuses drug companies, including Purdue, of misleading the public about opioid painkillers which contributed to the opioid crisis and caused billions of dollars in damages.
Due to the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction, quitting and getting sober can not only be hard, it may be life-threatening if not done correctly. However, many treatment centers offer patients a medically-supervised detoxification program to help wean them off of drugs while continuing to monitor their health.
Going to medical professionals to receive drug detox treatment is important and can help to make sure that the sobriety sticks.
Along with detoxification, many facilities offer patients a residential, or inpatient, treatment option in which patients live in the facility for an allotted time while they become adjusted to their new sober life. This also gives the patients the opportunity to receive a number of individual and group therapy and counseling sessions that can be helpful.
During these sessions, patients will speak with therapists and other former addicts to learn more about substance abuse and to help educate themselves on the proper path forward. Learning about how to handle cravings and urges can help to prevent a relapse. Many facilities work with the patient to provide them the tools they need to conquer addiction.
One type of popular therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a one-on-one type of therapy in which the patient talks with their counselor to help find the triggers that causes the patient to feel urges or want to use again. Together they identify these triggers and the counselor provides them with the knowledge they need on how to handle this when exposed to them outside of the rehabilitation facility.
Following the, normally, 30 to 90 days in a residential facility, patients are discharged and given the option to continue treatment through intensive outpatient care. During IOP, patients get a chance to live independently while also continuing to learn about their new sober life and how to maintain it.
Oxycodone is one of the many opiates that are being abused by millions across the country. OxyContin, the brand name for oxycodone, has been a factor in thousands of overdoses and fatalities across the country and continues to be one of the most popular painkillers. Oklahoma is one state that has seen its population victimized by the opioid epidemic, and oxycodone in particular. OxyContin and many other opioids have proven to be increasingly deadly. If you or a loved one is suffering from some type of substance abuse disorder and is need of drug or alcohol rehab, Landmark Recovery can help. Landmark is committed to providing the inpatient and outpatient care that patients require for them to defeat addiction. If you would like more information on treatment options, please contact our admissions staff today.