Basic Facts About OxyContin

A Highly Addictive Prescription Drug

The prescription medicine OxyContin is displayed August 21, 2001 at a Walgreens drugstore in Brookline, MA.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Oxycontin is the time-release form of oxycodone which is typically prescribed for chronic and severe pain. Due to the fact that it can contain a large amount of oxycodone, it has become one of the most abused prescription drugs in the United States.

OxyContin is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic prescribed for chronic or long-lasting pain. The active ingredient is oxycodone, which is also found in drugs like Percodan and Tylox. OxyContin can contain between 10 and 80 milligrams of oxycodone in a timed-release tablet, compared to about five milligrams a day in Percodan.

How It's Used

Generally, OxyContin is prescribed to be taken twice a day, a benefit over other pain-relieving medications that have to be taken several times a day. OxyContin is available in tablet form in seven dosage levels from 10 to 80 milligrams.

It is usually prescribed to help patients with chronic pain, such as back and neck pain. It may also be prescribed to cancer patients to help decrease pain and improve function.

How It's Abused

OxyContin abusers either crush the tablet and ingest or snort it or they dilute it in water and inject it. Crushing or diluting the tablet disarms the timed-release action of the medication, but crushing OxyContin in this way can give the user a potentially fatal dose.

In 2010, the FDA approved a new formulation of OxyContin to prevent such tampering. The drug maker, Purdue Pharma LP, made changes so that breaking up the tablet does not immediately release oxycodone. Also, if someone attempts to dissolve these new tablets for syringe injection, the liquid becomes gummy.

Despite these measures, the FDA continues to admit that abuse and misuse of OxyContin remain possible. Further, there is an increase in OxyContin abusers who are turning to heroin because it is a significantly lower-cost opioid. According to a 2013 study, nearly 80% of American heroin users reported misusing prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin before they were introduced to the illicit street drug.

Some of the street names for OxyContin include Oxy, O.C., Cotton, kickers, Ox, OCs, beans, rushbo, Orange County, killer, and hillbilly heroin. It is frequently mispronounced and misspelled as "oxycotton."


Under prescribed dosage, OxyContin is an effective pain reliever. When crushed and snorted or injected, the drug produces a quick and powerful "high" that some abusers compare to the feeling they get when doing heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in some areas of the country, OxyContin abuse rates are higher than heroin abuse.

OxyContin, like heroin and other opioids, is a central nervous system depressant. An overdose can cause respiratory failure and death.

Some symptoms of OxyContin overdose include:

  • Slow breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Small pupils
  • Reduced vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Clouding of mental functions

In Case of Overdose

If you believe someone has taken an overdose of OxyContin, call 9-1-1 immediately. Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride) is an emergency medication designed to counteract an opioid overdose. First-responders can use it to revive someone if they can reach them soon enough.

If medical attention is received promptly, there may be few long-term consequences of an overdose. When treatment is delayed, an overdose of OxyContin can be fatal or result in permanent brain damage.

Is It Addictive?

Like all opioids, OxyContin has the potential to be highly addictive. Due to the potential for abuse, OxyContin is a Schedule II drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

Even pain patients who use the drug as prescribed are advised against suddenly stopping OxyContin use. Instead, the dosage should be gradually reduced to avoid withdrawal symptoms. However, very few people who take OxyContin as prescribed become addicted to the drug.

Abusers of the drug, who take a higher than prescribed dosage, can develop a tolerance for OxyContin. This can cause them to take ever-increasing amounts to achieve the same effect. It is possible to become addicted or dependent on the drug rather quickly.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after the last dose and can last up to one week. People who have gone through OxyContin withdrawal compare the process to the intensity of heroin withdrawal:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Constant yawning
  • Hot/cold sweats
  • Heart palpitations
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Watery eyes
  • Depression

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Oxycotin Pharmacology

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Highlights of Prescribing Information, Oxycotin

  3. Muhuri PK, Gfroerer JC, Davies MC. Associations of Nonmedical Pain Reliever Use and Initiation of Heroin Use in the United States. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) Data Review. 2013.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine,, "Opiate and opioid withdrawal"

Additional Reading