There was a time when OxyContin was considered something of a rare drug in contrast to major prescription drugs like Vicodin. Where people might be given Vicodin in order to cope with mild to moderate pain, meaning that they might be given the drug after minor muscle sprains and major dental visits, OxyContin was reserved for cases of severe pain, and as a result, few people had access to this powerful drug. This might be changing. As doctors have grown increasingly comfortable with OxyContin, and patients have become more and more accustomed to demanding very strong painkillers to control their pain-related symptoms, the number of OxyContin prescriptions seems to be increasing. As a result, fears about OxyContin abuse and addiction are also on the rise.
Although the national media is often dominated by stories of male OxyContin abuse, this drug has found its way into countless women’s medicine cabinets as well. That means there are more addicted females today than ever before, and this is a problem that, until recently, has been without any adequately focused solutions. The Orchid was designed expressly to address this problem. This article will outline the basics of OxyContin abuse and addiction, and it might provide hope for the countless women who struggle with addictions to this powerful drug on a daily basis.
OxyContin is typically prescribed as a tablet that users are asked to swallow whole at specified times in order to control pain. The drug works quickly, modifying the brain’s response to pain signals it is receiving from the body. At the proper, prescribed dosage, most people who take the medication do not feel altered by the drug, but those who take the drug in higher doses might develop a feeling of euphoria, and this can be incredibly addicting.
Each time a user takes in OxyContin, the body responds with a series of chemical changes, and over time, the body tends to adjust to the presence of the drug. In order to prevent these sensations from occurring, the body might turn off some receptors for OxyContin, or simply provide smaller responses when the drug is present. This can lead people to develop a sort of arms race with their own bodies, taking higher and higher doses just to bring about the same effect. This could lead OxyContin addicts to ask for stronger OxyContin tablets, and they might even crush and snort the drugs in order to allow the medications to get to work faster.
In response to the rising tide of addictions to OxyContin, developers created an abuse-resistant form of the drug in 2010. This formulation makes crushing or dissolving the pills in water nearly impossible. While it might seem like this would be good news, an article in Medline suggests that this abuse-resistant formulation could be leading people into more serious forms of addiction. In a study, quoted in the article, researchers found that 36 percent of people abusing opioids were taking OxyContin in 2009, and only 13 percent were taking the drug in 2012. The researchers found that, during this same time period, heroin use in this group was increased from 10 percent to 20 percent. It seems that some people are switching to heroin, due to these OxyContin formulation changes. Heroin works on the same receptors as OxyContin, but it has additional benefits, such as:
- Ease of purchase. OxyContin might be hard to find, but heroin dealers are often easy to locate.
- Lower cost. Heroin costs seem to be decreasing, while OxyContin tablet costs on the black market are on the rise.
- Increased potency. OxyContin tablets are quite powerful, but heroin tends to be even more potent for most users.
- Quick acting. Since OxyContin tablets can’t be crushed, users often must wait for the drugs to move through the digestive system before they take effect. Heroin, shot right into the bloodstream, gets to work right away.
While it’s easy to understand why people might switch to heroin, it’s important to note that this switch is incredibly dangerous. People who use heroin are at risk for infections, blood-borne diseases and more. Those who are addicted to OxyContin should consider getting help well before they’re tempted to make the switch to heroin.
OxyContin and Women
Drugs are often metabolized differently in the bodies of men, when compared to women, and this can have a large impact on addiction rates and addiction treatments. There is some evidence to suggest that women respond differently to OxyContin than men do, according to an article in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer. In fact, the article states that gender is more important than age when it comes to the utilization and elimination of OxyContin.
Research seems to suggest that, for women, OxyContin is a very effective drug for pain control. Study after study has demonstrated that women in very severe pain from a variety of devastating and chronic conditions felt better when they were given access to this powerful drug. For example, a study in the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that older women struggling with severe pain due to osteoarthritis had significant improvement in pain scores, and they had lower depression scores, when given OxyContin for their pain. It’s likely that medical professionals read studies like this, and they begin to wonder if the women in their care could benefit from this powerful drug. Doctors want their patients to feel better, and studies like this seem to suggest that OxyContin might be the answer. As a result, many women who are in pain might be given this drug right off the bat, instead of being given a milder opiate such as Vicodin.
Studies of men and women addicted to painkillers like OxyContin seem to suggest that men and women follow a different path to addiction. A study of the issue in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, for example, found that close to 30 percent of women in drug treatment centers reported opioid abuse, while only 21 percent of men did the same. Additionally, women were more likely to report a pain problem, when compared to men. This seems to suggest that women developed a physical problem and then used drugs to handle that pain, while men might have started the abuse due to simple recreation. These two groups are radically different, and they might need different kinds of care in order to heal.
Women who are addicted to OxyContin might struggle with the addiction to a greater degree than men, due to their basic body chemistry. A study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that women reported greater cravings for opioids than men when they were in the early stages of recovery. This seems to suggest that women face more severe withdrawal symptoms while they are attempting to heal, and this could compromise their ability to fully recover.
The Dangers of Addiction
Using OxyContin in ways in which it was not designed can be incredibly risky. In fact, it’s difficult for experts to determine exactly how any prescription drug will work when it’s taken at incredibly high doses for long periods of time. Researchers run an extensive set of tests on prescription drugs when they are developed looking for attributes such as:
- Optimal dose
- Side effects
- Interactions with other drugs
- Allergic responses
Rarely do researchers ask subjects to take very high doses when they know these high doses won’t be helpful to cure disease. As a result, anyone who abuses prescription drugs is playing a risky game, as it’s just unclear how those drugs will work when taken in this way.
It is known, however, that people who abuse OxyContin face the very real risk of overdose. This drug is powerful, causing the heartbeat to slow and the breathing rate to slow as well. People who are addicted to OxyContin may need to take very high doses of the drug to feel the euphoria they seek, but they may also face the very real risk of overdose due to the high doses of drugs that they take. In fact, many people may walk a fine line between euphoria and overdose each and every day, and one little slip might be all it takes to push these people into an overdose. Women, in particular, might be at an increased risk for problems like this, due to the way their bodies handle OxyContin. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 155,053 women visited emergency rooms due to painkillers in 2008, compared to 150,790 men. It’s possible that more women than men were taking these drugs, of course, but it’s also possible that women faced more serious consequences due to their drug abuse, and this landed them in the hospital.
It’s also worth mentioning that women who abuse OxyContin could face legal consequences due to the abuse. Doctors are required to monitor their patients for drug addiction, and as a result, many have stopped prescribing OxyContin for long-term pain control. People who are addicted may be required to buy the drug from dealers on the street, and this is an illegal activity. Women who buy like this could be arrested for the behavior, and they might even be arrested for having the drug without a valid prescription. Women who are arrested like this might lose their children, their jobs and their status in the community. For women, a break in connections like this can be devastating, and it is a real possibility in OxyContin addiction.
Recovery at The Orchid
While addictions to OxyContin in women can be dangerous, and the consequences can be severe, a real recovery is possible. While women might struggle to stop using the medication on their own, a recovery program could provide women with the tools they’ll need in order to stop abusing this drug and start living their lives fully. Often, women prosper in the kind of program we offer at The Orchid. This is women-based care, and it’s been proven effective.
Look around the site and you’ll notice frequent mention of Dr. Karen Dodge, a luminary in the field of addiction who has written extensively on the subject of women’s recovery. Much of her work focuses on something called “relational growth” – a set of guidelines that encourages women to draw upon the strength of other female addicts as they get better. Here at The Orchid, relational growth therapy is woven together with other modern approaches such as yoga and trauma support groups to create an environment of professional, comprehensive care.
OxyContin is a powerful drug, but there is nothing quite as powerful as the strength of women working in concert. Please don’t hesitate to make contact today if you want to learn more about what we do. We are always happy to answer your questions.