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Oxycodone is a drug in the opioid family, which are derived from the poppy plant.

Used to treat several types of pain, oxycodone is slow acting as it is released into the bloodstream over time and is often used to treat moderate to severe pain. In Canada the drug has been sold under several brand names, including OxyContin and Percocet®. (OxyContin, which has been referred to as "hillbilly heroin, was removed from the Canadian market in 2012 and has been replaced with OxyNEO.)

Three hundred and fifty people Ontario died from an opioid overdose in 2008. In comparison, in that same year less than 350 drivers died in automobile accidents. The highest number of those opioid-related deaths – just under 150 deaths – were from oxycodone.

How it is used

Oxycodone is used for its analgesic properties to treat moderate to severe pain and should be taken as prescribed by a doctor. It is illegal for anyone to possess oxycodone in Canada without a valid prescription.

The use of oxycodone can be habit forming. If you have a prescription and feel that the dosage you are using is no longer effective, inform your doctor and do not increase the dosage on your own. (The need to increase the dosage does not necessarily mean that you are addicted and may simply indicate that you have developed a tolerance for your current dose.)

Oxycodone is one of the most abused prescription painkillers. When used for illicit purposes, people often crush and snort or inject the drug to get an immediate, intense effect.

Quick facts:

  • The global manufacture of oxycodone has increased sharply in recent years, with 127 tons of the drug being produced in 2011.[1]
  • Canada is one of the biggest importers of the drug, accounting for 24% of global imports in 2011. The next highest use can be found in the United Kingdom, which imported 13% of the global supply that year.[2]
  • Since 2005 oxycodone has accounted for the highest number of opioid-related deaths in Ontario, passing 170 deaths in 2010.[3]
  • While some versions of oxycodone are "tamper resistant", there are concerns that the lapsing of the patent for OxyContin and approval by Health Canada of several generic versions of this version of the drug may see production of new, generic versions that are not tamper resistant.[4]
  • In July 2013 Health Canada has issued a health concern fact sheet about the misuse and abuse of oxycodone, acknowledging concerns about possible misuse and abuse of oxycodone-based products in Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada.
  • Some companies will add chemicals to their formulas that make it unpleasant to abuse the drug. For example, a version of the drug manufactured by Pfizer contains and active ingredient designed to irritate the nasal passages if crushed and snorted.

Recognizing oxycodone

Oxycodone is sold in pill and tablet form under a variety of brand names.

Effects of oxycodone

The body has opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and some internal organs, which opium and opium-based drugs act on to partially or fully suppress pain and create a feeling of euphoria.

Short term effects of the drug can include a mildly euphoric feeling, blocking of pain and drowsiness. Negative effects can include nausea and constipation.

Oxycodone can be an effective treatment for pain when properly prescribed and supervised by a medical doctor. However, people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are most susceptible to oxycodone addiction.

Since opioid addiction has a strong psychological component, someone with an opioid addiction will typically show signs that the drug is playing a disproportionate role in the person's life, possibly impacting their work and relationships with friends and family.

Psychological signs of addiction include taking steps to illegally obtain the drug, like faking prescriptions, stealing, buying from illegal sources and "double-doctoring" or "doctor-shopping", where the person will visit several different medical offices in an attempt to gain multiple prescriptions. (Ontario is putting a tracking database in place in an attempt to curb this practice.)

Physical withdrawal symptoms are also common when someone stops using oxycodone. They are not life-threatening but are often very uncomfortable and can include anxiety and agitation, muscle pain, tremors, insomnia, sweating and flu-like symptoms.

When abused oxycodone can be addictive and possibly fatal.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following overdose symptoms for oxycodone, which need immediate medical attention if detected[5]:

  • Change in consciousness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Severe sleepiness
  • Decreased awareness or responsiveness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • No muscle tone or movement
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Constricted, pinpoint, or small pupils (black part of the eye)

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[1] Narcotic Drugs: Estimated World Requirements for 2013 / Statistics for 2011

[2] Ibid.

[3] Building Safety and Surveillance into Narcotic Use… individual and shared responsibility

[4] Letter from the Ontario Ministry of Health to the federal Ministry of Health

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