OxyContin abuse has increased dramatically on college and university campuses since the mid-1990’s. Abuse of painkillers like OxyContin accounts for most of the increase in prescription drug abuse by college-age young adults. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2002 approximately 1.9 million people aged 12 or older had used OxyContin non-medically at least once in their lifetime. The Drug Abuse Warning Network’s Report on Narcotic Analgesics (pdf file requiring Adobe Acrobat)shows that emergency department visits related to abuse of oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, increased 70 percent from 2000 to 2001. Rates were among the highest for the college-age group of people between 18 and 25 years old.
OxyContin is often used as a substitute for heroin, and produces feelings of euphoria and pain relief in abusers. OxyContin is medically dispensed in controlled-release tablets to relieve pain, and when taken under the supervision of a doctor, is usually not addictive. However, abusers of OxyContin may crush the tablets before ingesting or snorting them, compromising the controlled-release mechanism and dispensing potentially lethal doses of the drug. Misused in this way, OxyContin is highly addictive, and users may become tolerant or resistant to the drug’s effects. As a result, users need to take higher amounts to achieve the same initial effects. Users may become dependent on OxyContin, and experience withdrawal if they stop taking the drug.
OxyContin may have lethal interactions with other drugs, including alcohol and antihistamines. This is yet another reason why OxyContin is only safely used under the close supervision of a doctor.