What to know about oxycodone
Oxycodone is an opiate (narcotic) analgesic. Opiate analgesics change how the brain and central nervous system respond to pain. These chemical changes stop a person from feeling pain in the same way as they did.
This article looks at the uses, dosage, and drug interactions of oxycodone. It also discusses the risks of using oxycodone and oxycodone addiction.
What is oxycodone used for?
A doctor may prescribe oxycodone to treat chronic pain when over-the-counter medications do not help.
Oxycodone can relieve moderate to severe acute pain. It is most useful for spontaneous bursts of shooting pain, also known as paroxysmal pain.
Doctors often prescribe oxycodone for:
- paroxysmal pain
- steady pain
- allodynia, or a clinically sensitive pain response
- chronic pain
- cancer-related pain
How to take oxycodone
Oxycodone is available in a number of forms, including:
- concentrated solution
People take all forms of oxycodone orally, meaning by mouth. A doctor will advise a person what dose of oxycodone to take and how often.
It is essential to follow a doctor's instructions carefully. They will determine the correct amount of oxycodone for an individual to take, and a person must not exceed this or take the drug more frequently than stated on their prescription.
It is best to carefully measure out liquid forms of oxycodone to avoid taking too much.
Depending on why they are taking it, a person can use oxycodone for short- or long-term pain relief. Again, it is important only to take oxycodone for as long as the doctor prescribes.
Some oxycodone capsules and tablets are extended-release, meaning they release the medication over a longer time than other types.
If a person feels nauseous, it may help to take oxycodone with food.
What to consider before taking oxycodone
If a person is taking other drugs, they should discuss with their doctor how these may interact with oxycodone.
Oxycodone can be addictive. People with an alcohol or substance use disorder should discuss this with their doctor before using oxycodone.
If a person has a family history of alcohol or substance use disorder, they should also tell their doctor. A family history of these conditions may mean a person is more likely to become addicted to oxycodone.
Oxycodone and addiction
A doctor can offer advice if addiction is a concern.
Oxycodone increases the level of dopamine in a person's brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, that controls feelings of pleasure.
Taking drugs that boost dopamine may cause a person to experience a high, which people sometimes refer to as euphoria. Drugs that affect brain chemistry in this way can lead to addiction.
A person may become addicted to oxycodone without intentionally misusing it. Taking oxycodone for a long time can increase a person's tolerance to it. This means that they may need to take higher doses of it to continue experiencing its pain-relieving benefits.
Over time, taking oxycodone can change a person's brain chemistry. This means that they may need help coming off the drug.
If a person develops an addiction to oxycodone, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. For this reason, it is essential not to take oxycodone for longer than a doctor prescribes.
If an addiction develops, a doctor can help people access the treatment they will need to manage this.
Other risks of oxycodone
People may want to speak to a doctor about the following risks before taking oxycodone:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: It is not always safe to take oxycodone when pregnant or breastfeeding. The drug can pass on to the baby through breast milk.
- Older people: Seniors may have a higher risk of side effects from oxycodone. This is because their kidney function may be less, which makes it harder for their bodies to process the drug.
- Children: Oxycodone may not be safe for children. Children should only ever take oxycodone if a doctor decides this treatment for them.
People with the following health conditions should speak to their doctor before taking oxycodone:
- Head injury: Oxycodone may increase the pressure around the brain, so taking oxycodone could be harmful to people with head injuries.
- Allergies: If someone has ever had an allergic reaction to oxycodone, they should not take it again.
- Breathing problems: Oxycodone can slow a person's breathing, which can be dangerous for people with conditions that affect their breathing.
- Bowel or stomach conditions: Oxycodone may make bowel or stomach conditions worse because it affects the way food moves through the gut.
- Kidney or liver problems: If a person has kidney or liver problems, their body may not be able to process oxycodone effectively. This can lead to the drug building up in the blood and causing problems.
- Epilepsy: Oxycodone may make seizures worse if someone has epilepsy
- Pancreas and gallbladder problems: Oxycodone may increase the risk of pancreatitis.
- Adrenal or thyroid problems: Taking oxycodone may make conditions affecting the adrenal and thyroid glands worse.
- Urinary problems: Oxycodone may make conditions that cause trouble urinating worse.
Side effects of oxycodone
Taking oxycodone may lead to some side effects. If the following side effects are ongoing or severe, a person should tell their doctor:
What happens if you take an overdose?
Taking too much oxycodone can cause an overdose. Untreated, this may be life-threatening. Signs of an oxycodone overdose can include:
- breathing difficulties
- slowing or stopping breathing
- losing consciousness
- pupils becoming narrow or wide
- muscle weakness
- skin that feels cold or clammy
If a person shows signs of an oxycodone overdose, it is essential to call the emergency services.
Alternative ways to manage pain
Tai chi and meditation can help treat chronic pain.
People can manage most mild pain with over-the-counter, pain-relieving medication, including:
A person who experiences moderate to severe pain can discuss pain management options with their doctor.
For long-term management of chronic pain, which is pain that lasts for several months, prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, are not the only option.
Ways to help manage chronic pain without drugs include:
- Acupuncture, yoga, and tai chi: A 2017 systematic review reports that these therapies can provide small to moderate short-term pain relief for people with chronic back pain.
- Music: A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis shows that people report a reduction in chronic pain and depression through listening to music.
- Mindfulness meditation: A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis notes that mindfulness meditation can improve pain symptoms and that scientists need more research to say exactly how effective it is.
People should discuss any other medications they are taking with their doctor before starting oxycodone. The doctor can explain any potential drug interactions.
It is not advisable to drink alcohol while taking oxycodone. Oxycodone can increase the effects of alcohol and may cause harm.
Oxycodone is a prescription opioid pain-relieving medication that people use to manage moderate to severe pain. It works by changing the way the brain and central nervous system respond to pain.
Oxycodone is available in various forms. People must only take it as their doctor prescribes. Long-term use of oxycodone may lead to addiction. A doctor can help people manage an addiction to oxycodone.