Oxycodone: Medication for Pain

Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. Like all opioids, oxycodone is highly addictive, and it’s a major player in the opioid epidemic, which currently claims around 115 lives every day due to overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Today, opioid overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and overdose deaths continue to rise.

Between 2016 and 2017, overdose deaths increased by 30 percent in 45 states, and they increased by 70 percent in some midwest states.

  • Overdose Deaths Increase in 45 States 30% 30%
  • Overdose Deaths Increase in Midwest States 70% 70%

Oxycodone is available in:

  • Tablets
  • Capsules
  • Syrups
  • Suppositories

Trade names:

  • Percodan
  • Percocet
  • OxyContin
  • Roxiprin

Oxycodone is available in:

  • Tablets
  • Capsules
  • Syrups
  • Suppositories


Trade names:

  • Percodan
  • Percocet
  • OxyContin
  • Roxiprin

Oxycodone Dependence

Oxycodone produces intense euphoria and a keen sense of wellbeing, and it’s commonly abused for these effects. Oxycodone abuse is defined as using the drug in any way other than exactly as prescribed.

Abuse can lead to addiction, which is characterized by compulsive oxycodone abuse despite the negative consequences it causes. Oxycodone addiction can lead to serious problems with your relationships, finances, legal status and physical and mental health.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 23 percent of people who abuse opioids become addicted, compared to 15 percent of people who abuse alcohol and nine percent of people who abuse marijuana.

Oxycodone dependence is different from addiction. It’s characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you suddenly stop taking it. Treating oxycodone dependence is the first step in oxycodone addiction treatment. This takes place during medical detox through a high quality treatment program.

How Dependence Develops

Oxycodone acts on the dopamine system in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that produces feelings of pleasure. In nature, dopamine is released when you do something enjoyable, like eat a tasty meal or engage in sexual activity. But when you take oxycodone or another opioid, the dopamine release is up to ten times greater than what you’ll find in nature.

Tolerance develops as the brain changes the way it functions in order to compensate for heavy oxycodone abuse. In response to the large dopamine rush caused by opioids, the brain reduces the amount of dopamine released and alters the dopamine receptors. As a result, you need increasingly larger doses to get the desired effects. This is known as tolerance, and oxycodone and other opioids produces tolerance very quickly.

Oxycodone Withdrawal

As opioid dosage is increased, the brain continues to reduce dopamine activity in an attempt to normalize, and at some point, brain function will shift so that the brain now operates more comfortably when opioids are present. Then, use suddenly stops, normal chemical brain function rebounds.

This produces opioid withdrawal symptoms, which include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cold and hot chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Intense cravings

Not everyone will experience all of the possible withdrawal symptoms associated with oxycodone detox, and symptoms can range from mild to severe and may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

While oxycodone withdrawal isn’t particularly dangerous, it can be excruciating. How long withdrawal lasts depends on a number of factors, including your age, the severity of dependence, how much oxycodone is in your system at the time of detox, and your general state of physical and mental health. 

Oxycodone Detox

Medical Detox

Medical detox is a medically supervised detoxification process that involves withholding opioids so that all traces can be removed from the body. A variety of medications are given as needed to reduce the intensity of symptoms and help brain function begin to return to normal.

High quality medical detox programs provide a high level of physical and emotional support from peers and staff during withdrawal. Some detox programs offer complementary therapies like restorative yoga, massage therapy or acupuncture to help reduce stress, improve feelings of wellbeing and promote retention in detox.

During detox, care providers administer a variety of assessments that help them create an individualized treatment program to address the addiction once detox is complete. These assessments evaluate your physical and mental health and identify serious problems in your life, such as housing emergencies, relationship problems, financial troubles or legal issues. The resulting treatment plan is designed to address all of your needs and issues so that you can focus on recovery for the long-haul.

Once medical detox is complete, attention turns to treating the addiction.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT,  is the current gold standard for treating opioid addiction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.​​​1 Medication-assisted treatment involves taking medications that reduce cravings, block the effects of opioids and help normalize brain function.

Research shows that MAT:

  • Improves retention in treatment
  • Increases social functioning
  • Reduces the risk of overdose and death
  • Reduces the risk of relapse
  • Reduces illicit opioid abuse and associated crimes
  • Reduces the risk of HIV and hepatitis infection
  • Improves the chances of finding and maintaining employment
  • Improves birth outcomes for women who are pregnant

Medication used with MAT makes it possible for people in recovery to focus on learning essential coping skills and strategies for handling cravings, negative emotions, stress and other powerful relapse triggers.

Three medications are approved by the FDA for use with medication-assisted treatment:


Methadone has been used for many decades to treat opioid addiction. A synthetic opioid, methadone is an opioid agonist, which means that it engages the same brain receptors that heroin and painkillers act on.

However, the effects of methadone are weaker and more gradual than those produced by other opioids. Because methadone has a high potential for abuse, people on methadone maintenance must visit a clinic or doctor’s office for their daily dose.


Buprenorphine has been used with MAT since 2002. A partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine produces the same effects as full agonists, but the effects are much weaker.

It also has a ceiling effect, which means that taking more buprenorphine won’t increase the effects. For this reason, buprenorphine can be prescribed and taken at home.


Naltrexone was approved in 2010 for use with MAT. It’s an opioid antagonist, which means that it blocks the effects of opioids.

While methadone and buprenorphine can be taken right away upon entering detox, all traces of opioids must be out of the body before beginning naltrexone. Therefore, medical detox will be necessary before starting this medication. 

Treating Opiate Use Disorder

Whether you choose medical detox or medication-assisted treatment, detox and medication alone aren’t enough to address the addiction, which is far more complex than dependence.

According to a study published in the Irish Medical Journal, 91 percent of clients in an opioid detox program relapsed after detox, 59 percent of them within the first week of release.2 By contrast, those who participated in a treatment program after detox either experienced a significantly delayed relapse or didn’t relapse at all.

  • Clients Relapse After Detox 91% 91%
  • Relapses Within the First Week of Release 59% 59%

Aspects of Successful Treatments

Successfully treating an addiction requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses all aspects of the addiction, including:

  • The underlying causes of the addiction, which commonly include chronic stress, mental illnesses like anxiety or depression or a history of trauma
  • The dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns that develop as a result of addiction
  • The unhealthy lifestyle choices that help keep you mired in addiction
  • The problems in life that stem from the addiction
  • A lack of purpose or meaning in life
  • Missing life or coping skills that are required for successful long-term recovery

It takes time to develop an addiction, and it takes time to develop healthy thought and behavior patterns and lifestyle changes that long-term recovery depends on. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, staying in treatment for an adequate period of time is central to long-term recovery. Anything less than 90 days, according to NIDA, is of limited effectiveness.3

Holistic Oxycodone Treatment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that a holistic approach to treatment offers the best chances for successful recovery.4 Holistic treatment involves both traditional “talk” therapies and complementary “experiential” therapies.

Traditional Therapies: Traditional therapies include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is the cornerstone of high quality addiction treatment programs. Other traditional therapies include family therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. These and other traditional therapies delve into the underlying causes of the addiction and address a wide range of issues.

Complementary Therapies: Complementary therapies commonly used in high quality treatment programs include art therapy, yoga, and mindfulness meditation. These therapies help reduce stress, improve retention in treatment, and create a sense of well-being and safety as well as address various issues of body, mind and spirit.

Treatment Goals: Through both traditional and complementary therapies, people in treatment:

  • Address the causes of the addiction
  • Repair damaged relationships and restore function to the household
  • Develop skills to prevent relapse
  • Learn about how addiction develops, how relapse happens and how recovery works
  • Re-learn healthy ways of thinking and behaving
  • Develop a healthy lifestyle that supports recovery

Other Supports: In addition to therapy, treatment involves a variety of interventions that help individuals restore their lives and move forward in recovery. These interventions are provided as needed and include:

  • Educational assistance
  • Legal assistance
  • Help finding safe housing
  • Mental health treatment
  • Medical care
  • Parenting classes
  • Financial literacy help
  • Life skills classes
  • Vocational rehab

    Once treatment is complete, an individualized aftercare plan is developed to help you through the early weeks and months of solo recovery. The aftercare plan will typically include ongoing therapy, continued care and support for mental or medical illnesses, participation in a support group and other components based on your unique needs.

    Through a holistic treatment program, even a severe addiction can be sent into remission for the long-haul.

    Treatment Works

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment works for most people who stay in rehab for its duration and engage fully with their treatment plan.

    If you have an addiction to oxycodone or another opioid, medical detox or MAT will help you get off the drug safely and comfortably, and treatment will help you stay off for the long-haul.

    Through treatment, you’ll work to restore your life on all fronts, repair damaged relationships, and find purpose and meaning in a life without oxycodone.