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Oxycodone (also known as ‘Oxycontin‘, ‘Oxynorm‘ or ‘oxy‘) is a strong painkiller given by doctors to people with cancer or a lot of pain. A person gets this painkiller after major surgery, for example. Oxycodone can be very addictive. A person can die from taking too much of this medicine.

What is oxycodone?

Oxycodone is increasingly prescribed by doctors, but what is it really? Oxycodone is a morphine-like painkiller (opiate), prescribed for severe pain, injuries and serious illnesses. Strong painkillers, such as oxycodone, used to be prescribed only for terminal cancer patients. Nowadays, doctors are increasingly giving such drugs for less serious symptoms, such as broken bones, too. Oxycodone is usually prescribed in the form of tablets, capsules or drinks. Besides its analgesic effect, oxycodone can have a calming effect and reduce anxiety. Oxycodone can also have side effects. The most common side effects are drowsiness, constipation, nausea, headache and itching. But confusion, depression and breathing problems are also common. About 700 patients end up in the emergency room each year with a serious side effect.

Oxycodone dosage

The dosage depends on the severity of the pain, your general condition and any other medications you are taking. Normally, you start with the short-acting form of oxycodone, which you may take 4-6 times a day. It may sometimes be wise to take the medicine 30-60 minutes before painful moments (e.g. physiotherapy). When severe pain cannot be controlled well enough, your doctor may choose to increase the short-acting dose or switch to a long-acting form. It is also important that the drug’s effect and side effects – such as constipation and drowsiness – are regularly evaluated by the doctor. If you notice that the effect is becoming less and less, or that you are taking oxycodone even when you are not in pain, you should discuss this with your doctor. There should also be an ongoing review of other ways to treat the pain. Always stick to the prescribed dosage.

Risks

For someone who suffers from oxycodone-induced dizziness or drowsiness, for example, it is dangerous to participate in traffic. The person may be more likely to cause an accident. Dizziness and drowsiness can also make a person fall or trip faster. If a person uses oxycodone often or a lot, that person may become addicted to it. A person who takes too much of the drug may fall into a coma or even die. Taking oxycodone with narcotics (e.g. alcohol, GHB or benzodiazepines) is especially dangerous. That person will then overdose more quickly. A person taking oxycodone should avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice. Grapefruit causes the liver to work differently. As a result, this medicine works differently in the body, which can cause more and more severe side effects.

Is oxycodone addictive?

Oxycodone is an opiate in which physical habituation occurs quickly. This ensures that more and more oxycodone is needed to achieve the same effect. In addition, the drug has a very strong effect on the dopamine system (reward system) in the brain. Any addiction affects the reward system and the amount of dopamine in the human brain. Medications and drugs that artificially increase dopamine levels are therefore among the most addictive substances. All opiates have this highly addictive effect.

Oxycodone is addictive. A person may like the effect of this medicine so much that that person needs it every day. This is because if a person takes oxycodone for a long time in a row, the body no longer works well without it. That person then needs more and more for the same effect. This is called tolerance. If someone just stops using it, symptoms can arise. This is called withdrawal symptoms. Examples of withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Palpitations
  • Shivers
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Poor sleep
  • Pain that gets worse
  • Craving for the drug (‘craving’)

It is better to phase out this medicine than to stop it all at once. A person then takes just a little less oxycodone each week, for example, than the week before. The withdrawal symptoms will then be less. If you want to taper off, contact your doctor. They can help you.

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