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The Dangers Of Snorting OxyContin (Oxycodone Insufflation)

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

February 19, 2019

Abuse of oxycodone (OxyContin) can lead to many risks or dangers. These risks are enhanced when a person snorts the drug, as snorting (insufflation) produces a faster onset of effects than was originally intended for the drug.

Abuse of oxycodone may result in many risks to a person’s health, no matter the method of administration—oral ingestion, insufflation, or injection.

The dangers of snorting OxyContin include:

  • damage to the nasal septum
  • extreme headaches
  • irritability
  • mood changes
  • persistent nasal infections
  • severe damage to nasal passages
  • shaking and/or tremors
  • slurred speech
  • tightness of the chest
  • trouble breathing through nostrils

What Is Oxycodone (OxyContin)?

Oxycodone, brand name OxyContin, is a prescription opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids like oxycodone produce intense effects when the drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in pain relief and slowed heart rate, breathing rate, and other body functions. Because of the drug’s potential for abuse, it’s classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Oxycodone is never intended for long-term use, but for short-term relief of pain in patients with chronic issues or illnesses, such as arthritis or cancer. Other brand names for oxycodone include Oxaydo and Xtampza. Oxycodone is also used in multiple pain-relief combination medications, which include Percocet, Percodan, and Roxicet.

Abusing prescription opioids may force the effects of the drugs to happen more quickly, which can be dangerous as the drugs are often designed to release slowly over time. Snorting, in particular, causes oxycodone to bypass the digestive system and head straight to a person’s bloodstream, crossing the blood-brain barrier.

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Oxycodone medications are usually designed to release slowly so the body can adjust to the effects of them. Snorting oxycodone may cause a person to have rapidly decreased breathing, heart rate, or blood pressure, which can contribute to seizures, cardiac arrest, or sudden death.

People who snort oxycodone and combine it with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, face an even greater risk of fatal overdose.

Why Do People Abuse Oxycodone?

At first, people taking oxycodone may ease into abuse without realizing it—if pain becomes too great, they may increase their dosage without first consulting their doctor, or they may begin crushing up the pills and snorting them for faster effects in an attempt to ease discomfort.

However, abuse of oxycodone can happen in a number of ways for recreational use as well, including changing method of administration (such as snorting, instead of consuming orally), changing the dosage, or when an individual takes a medication that does not belong to him or her.

People tend to abuse oxycodone through insufflation because of its fast onset of effects. Not only does abuse of the drug provide relief from pain, it also produces an intense, rapid bout of euphoria, which is the reason many people abuse it recreationally.

Oxycodone Addiction And Dependence

This “high” is often what quickly leads to addiction; once a person experiences the high, he or she will likely want to experience it again and again. The more a person abuses oxycodone, the quicker abuse can lead to physical dependence, meaning they will experience uncomfortable, intense withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug.

Once a person forms a physical dependence, they are unlikely to stop the use of oxycodone without help. The cravings for the drug caused by the euphoria they are used to experiencing and the harrowing withdrawal symptoms keep a person going back to OxyContin.

Side Effects Of Oxycodone Abuse

In addition to euphoria, opioids like oxycodone may result in a number of effects on a person’s health. General side effects of oxycodone abuse include confusion, constipation, drowsiness, nausea, and slowed breathing and heart rates.

Effects Of Oxycodone On The Brain

Opioids work in the brain by attaching to cells located in the brain, spinal cord, and organs throughout the body. In binding to these receptor cells, opioids disrupt the brain communication pathways by blocking pain signals sent from the brain to destinations throughout the body and produce an influx of dopamine (happy chemical). This action creates the euphoria and is often the reason people continue to seek and use oxycodone.

Effects Of Oxycodone On The Body

When a person uses oxycodone as directed by a physician, side effects tend to be mild. Side effects may be more intense when a person abuses the drug, especially when abusing oxycodone through insufflation.

Effects of oxycodone on the body include:

  • breathing irregularity/respiratory depression
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • low blood pressure
  • nausea
  • seizures
  • heart failure

Risk of cardiac arrest or death by overdose increase considerably when a person snorts OxyContin, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

Other Dangers Of Oxycodone Abuse

Perhaps one of the greatest dangers associated with oxycodone abuse by insufflation is the risk of developing addiction and dependence. Once a person becomes addicted to oxycodone, they will likely continue seeking and using the drug with mounting frequency. Increased risk of overdose and the side effects caused by the drug puts a person in harm’s way.

Dangers Of Injecting Oxycodone

Though snorting may be one of the most dangerous ways to abuse oxycodone, abuse by injection also poses some serious health risks. Instead of crushing and snorting the pill, some people may crush OxyContin and dissolve it in water, forming a solution they can inject.

Injection of any drug is the fastest route of administration, meaning the onset of effects is immediate. People may inject the drugs into their muscle, skin, or in the veins directly into the bloodstream. Injection of oxycodone comes with the same side effects and risks as snorting the drug, but injection brings with it many other dangers, such as:

  • Risk of contracting contagious diseases, such as Hepatitis or HIV
  • Skin lesions, infections, and complications at the injection site
  • Blockages in the bloodstream due to medication particles which did not dissolve fully in the solution
  • Greatly increased risk of overdose

Withdrawal From Oxycodone

Withdrawal from oxycodone occurs when a person has formed a physical dependence on the drug through repeated use and abruptly stops taking it. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may begin as soon as a few hours after the last use.

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms include:

  • cold flashes and goosebumps
  • extreme cravings
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • muscle and bone pain
  • sleep troubles
  • uncontrolled leg movements

Because of the severity of these symptoms, many people in treatment for oxycodone addiction benefit from a medically supervised detoxification program, where they can rid their body of the drug safely and in a supported environment. Several medications are currently in use to help ease discomfort during detoxification, including buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) and methadone.

Signs Of Oxycodone Overdose

Oxycodone poses a high risk for overdose when abused, especially by snorting or injection, so it’s important to know the signs of overdose and what to do if someone exhibits these signs.

Signs of an oxycodone overdose may include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • cold, clammy skin
  • changes to pupil size
  • extreme drowsiness
  • limp, weak muscles
  • loss of consciousness
  • slowed or stopped breathing
  • coma

In the case of an overdose, a reversal drug known as Naloxone may be administered. For some, the use of this drug could save their life. If a person is experiencing an overdose, try to keep the person calm, let them know they are supported, and seek emergency medical help right away.

How To Help Someone Who Is Addicted To Oxycodone

People who have become addicted to oxycodone will benefit most from an inpatient treatment program. Residential treatment allows the person to receive round-the-clock medical support, clinical care, medication as needed, and a stable environment in which to heal. Individuals can enter a detoxification program if necessary and move forward with a formal treatment program immediately after.

Having this stable environment and ongoing support is incredibly important for overcoming opioid addiction; people overcoming this type of addiction are prone to relapse. With the right care and a solid foundation, individuals in recovery can learn to manage the symptoms and avoid relapse, especially with access to the proper continued care.

Many types of treatment have proven effective at helping people overcome opioid addiction, which affects a person’s psychological and emotional health as much as the physical. Some treatment program components which have helped people learn to let go of opioid abuse and build and maintain a sober life include individual and group therapy, behavioral therapy, skills-building programs, gender-specific treatment, and dual diagnosis programs.

Whatever treatment program an individual chooses, it should identify and address the unique needs of that individual, fostering growth, healing, and a lasting recovery.

Learn more about the dangers of oxycodone and the best rehab centers for opioid addiction treatment today.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Prescription Opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Prescription Opioids

U.S. Federal Drug Administration - Medication Guide: OxyContin

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Oxycodone

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