In this post, we’ll explore one of the most potent prescription opioids out there—Roxycodone. What is it about this drug that makes it so dangerous, and how addictive is it? If you struggle with chronic pain and have thought about trying this drug, you’ll want to read this post. We’ll also explore how opioids change brain function and how addiction forms.
Let’s get started.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs. The feature that’s common to all opioids is that they’re derived from the poppy plant. However, some opioids, like fentanyl, are synthetic. They don’t come from nature, but they’re based on molecules that do. Common opioids include:
The active ingredient in opioid medications has a molecular structure similar to certain neurotransmitters produced in the brain. Because of this, the brain has receptors that fit this compound, known as opioid receptors. These receptors are present on nerve cells too, and that’s why opioids are able to dampen the perception of pain.
Opioids like Roxycodone are the most commonly prescribed pain relievers.
However, as we’ll see, all opioid medications and drugs are addictive, especially newer opioids like Roxycodone. In 2015, over 20-million Americans struggled with a substance abuse disorder. Of those, at least 2-million were addicted to opioid pain relievers.
Indeed, opioid overuse is a real problem. Many problem opioids are available by prescription and are thus completely legal to use. Unfortunately, because they’re quite addictive, individuals susceptible to substance abuse disorder may become reliant on them. When their prescription runs out, they may become desperate. Some of them then engage in a practice known as ‘doctor hopping’ in which they visit multiple doctors—sometimes across state lines—to obtain more prescriptions. There are several factors driving this behavior:
- Fear of the return of pain
- Fear of withdrawal
- Fear of admitting to their health care provider that they’ve become addicted.
Sadly, opioid addiction can lead to experimentation with illicit street drugs, such as heroin. Since these drugs are not produced in sterile conditions with government oversight, they can contain harmful additives. Accidental overdose is common.
Opioid addiction doesn’t always start with a pain reliever prescription, though. People who start out using softer drugs like marijuana often graduate to heroin or cocaine. According to research, around 23 percent of folks who experiment with heroin become addicted.
How Opioids Cause Addiction
Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing opioid addiction. Of course, your personal history, your family history and your genetics can influence your risk. But whether someone will become addicted is impossible to predict accurately. Even people with no family history have been known to become addicted to opioids. Some opioids, like Roxycodone and fentanyl, are particularly addictive.
Unfortunately, whether legal or illegal, opioids are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths.
What is Opioid addiction?
In brief, addiction is a brain disease. Addiction is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug despite negative consequences. At first, the person uses the drug recreationally—for pleasure. But over time, the drug becomes something they need. The individual now feels like they can’t get by without it.
Addiction, then, has three defining characteristics:
- An irresistible craving to take the drug
- Compulsive use
- Continued use despite harmful consequences
Opioid addiction may be more complex than other addictions. Consider Roxycodone. As an opioid, the drug is capable of dampening chronic pain. This alone can encourage psychological dependence. But all opioids force the brain to release a feel-good brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is an important part of the brain’s reward pathway and plays a role in motivation.
Taking an opioid is akin to pressing a “feel good” button in the brain. But, as you might suspect, this comes with side effects. While a rush of dopamine can give you a temporary sense of well-being, forcing dopamine release in this way over and over can change brain function.
So on the one hand, the user wants relief from pain, and on the other, the drug also makes them feel good.
Side Effects of Opioid Abuse
When you take opioids regularly, your brain resists the constant release of dopamine by becoming resistant to the drug. This is known as tolerance. If you’ve ever noticed that you have to take more of a drug to get the same effect, you may have experienced this. The brain can develop tolerance to any drug, including caffeine, alcohol or marijuana.
You can think of tolerance as a warning from your brain that addiction may be right around the bend. It’s very important to be on the lookout for tolerance if you’re using opioids for any length of time.
You may be developing tolerance if you have ever:
- Taken ‘just one more pill.’
- Taken someone else’s prescription because theirs is stronger
- Accidentally taken two doses in one day
If you persist through the tolerance phase, your brain may become dependent on opioids for the release of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine. This is known as chemical dependence. The dependent brain has ‘forgotten’ how to function normally without the drug. So when you try to stop, you’ll experience intense cravings. If you still don’t use, you’ll begin to experience withdrawal.
Doctors today are acutely aware of the dangers of opioid abuse. So they’re often reluctant to increase a dose and sometimes won’t even renew a prescription. It’s at this point that the opioid addict looks elsewhere. They often go to street dealers in search of heroin.
But, as mentioned, heroin is increasingly adulterated with contaminants and additives. One of these additives is the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, and it can easily cause overdose. Because of the nature of the illicit drug trade, it’s impossible for a user to know whether the batch they’ve just bought is safe.
Some drug dealers add fentanyl to their heroin supply because fentanyl is much more addictive than regular heroin. Federal agencies in the U.S. are cracking down on this, as fentanyl is a leading cause of overdose death.
Note: it’s impossible to detect fentanyl in heroin as both drugs resemble a fine white powder.
Minimizing Addition Risk
If you’re using an opioid like Roxycodone to manage chronic pain, but are concerned about addiction risk, take heart. There are a few basic precautions you can take. First, don’t attempt to stop taking Roxycodone without the help of a doctor. Your doctor can step your dose down over time. This will minimize any withdrawal symptoms.
What’s more, attempting to stop opioid use cold turkey can have severe side effects, such as extreme pain. While taking an opioid, it’s easy, and tempting, to forget how icky the pain felt. But if you go off the opioid abruptly, the pain will come careening back. Indeed, the pain may feel worse than ever before. This isn’t meant to dissuade you from stepping down your opioid use. Rather, it’s meant to illustrate the importance of stopping down gradually.
Next, always take an opioid like Roxycodone exactly as directed. As we’ll see, no one should be using Roxycodone or similar strength opioids casually. Don’t use them for longer than directed. If you started taking them to manage a wound or injury, and said injury has healed, you should take a step back and consider whether you still need the opioid. Is the pain really lingering?
Taking an opioid for more than a few days increases your risk of developing chemical dependence. Remember, all opioids hijack the brain’s reward pathway, forcing the brain to release dopamine. The same action that blocks pain also changes brain function. Sadly, we can’t have one without the other.
Finally, some individuals are more prone to addiction than others. There are genetic risk factors, so do check your family history. But there are also known risk factors that exist independent of genetic risk. These include:
- Living at or below the poverty line
- Being unemployed
- Being young
- History of criminal activity
- Regular contact with individuals who abuse drugs or engage in risky behaviors
- Problems getting along with siblings, friends, employers and loved ones
- Thrill-seeking behavior
- Heavy tobacco or alcohol use
- History of depression or anxiety
- Prior drug rehabilitation
- High stress work or living environment
If many of the items on this list describe you, you might want to avoid opioids altogether if possible. If you’re already taking opioids and are struggling to control your consumption, you may need the help of an accredited rehabilitation facility. Don’t wait. Get help now.
Roxycodone—or Roxicodone—is a powerful opioid available by prescription only. Roxycodone works by dulling the pain receptors in the brain. However, like all opioids, it can also affect the respiratory system at high doses. This medication is used to treat severe, chronic pain. You should never use it for minor aches and pains as it is quite addictive.
To give you an idea of how potent this drug is, it is sometimes used before surgery as a sedative.
According to the FDA, possible side effects of Roxycodone abuse include:
- Life threatening respiratory depression
- Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome
- Overdose and death
The FDA further instructs doctors to provide patients with the lowest possible dose, ‘because of the risk of addiction, abuse and misuse.’ In addition, patients should not use this drug if there are non-opioid drugs available. Because the risk of addiction is so high, this drug is only suitable if you’ve tried all other available painkillers.
Many people labor under the misconception that they cannot abuse a drug they’ve been prescribed. This is reasonable at first glance. After all, why would a doctor prescribe an addictive drug? The reality is, however, that these opioids are prescribed as a last resort, last ditch effort to help a patient manage almost overwhelming pain. It’s important to understand that if there were any alternative, these medications would probably be shelved because they’re so addictive.
There are two primary factors that make this opioid so easy to abuse:
- Roxycodone is much more powerful than morphine.
- Rapid onset. Roxycodone takes effect very quickly.
If you do any of the following, you are at much higher risk of developing addiction:
- Take the drug more frequently than you’re supposed to
- Take a higher dose than you were prescribed
- Take the drug recreationally—ever
Also note that any use that varies from the instructions on your prescription may constitute abuse. If you find yourself swerving at all, it may be time to get help. Don’t underestimate the risk.
If you’re concerned about your opioid use, there are several self-assessments you can do. One of these is the CAGE analysis. CAGE is a simple four question self-assessment. Let’s take a look.
- C—Have you ever thought that you should cut down on your opioid consumption?
- A—Have you been annoyed by people who say you should cut down?
- G—Have you ever felt guilty about your use?
- E—Have you ever had an eye-opening experience that made you realize you might have a problem?
If you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these, it’s probably time to look into an accredited rehabilitation facility. If you feel you need more self-assessment before you’re ready to take the next step, consider the AUDIT or MAST tests.
An accredited facility can help you step down from Roxycodone or other opioids in a safe, medically supervised environment. You should never attempt to detox from any drug on your own, especially opioids.
A quality rehab facility like The Hills can help you come to terms with your addiction by teaching you powerful therapy modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy. With CBT, you’ll gain access to powerful techniques that keep you in control. With time, you can gain mastery over cravings.