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Is Oxycodone Withdrawal Lethal? How Can You Safely Detox?

Oxycodone is a powerful pain reliever and highly addictive drug. It belongs to the opioid class of medications and is only legally allowed to be used under a doctor’s supervision. It is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse that can lead to severe psychological and physical dependence.

When used legally, oxycodone — which can be prescribed generically or under the brand names OxyContin, Oxaydo, Roxicodone, and Roxybond — is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. Depending on the patient’s symptoms, doctors can prescribe oxycodone in an immediate-release or extended-release version. It can be taken as a tablet, capsule, or solution, and all forms are consumed orally.

Oxycodone works by interfering with pain messages being sent throughout your body. It acts like endorphins in your body that cause pleasure. Oxycodone binds to opioid receptors in the brain that normally send pain signals throughout the body. Since oxycodone prevents the messages from being sent, the result is a reduced sense of pain, which can also be accompanied by a sense of euphoria. This sense of euphoria is what leads so many people to misuse oxycodone.

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Dangers of Withdrawal

If you have been taking oxycodone, whether under the supervision of a doctor or recreationally, and are ready to stop using it, it is important to lower your dosage over time to minimize the risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to develop dependency on the drug after just a couple weeks of regular use. If use is abruptly stopped, unpleasant and potentially severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to be experienced.

Researchers have identified extreme cases of oxycodone withdrawal that have led to death. Withdrawal symptoms, such as severe vomiting and diarrhea, can lead to dehydration, which can cause elevated blood sodium levels in the body when left untreated. This, in turn, can lead to heart failure and death.

Through proper medical management of withdrawal symptoms, safe medical detoxification and positive treatment outcomes can be achieved.

Withdrawal Timeline

The symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal and the rate at which they occur vary from person to person. Factors that impact the experience of withdrawal symptoms include physical health, duration of use, and severity of use. That being said, there are many common withdrawal symptoms and a general timeline for when they are likely to occur.

Initial withdrawal symptoms usually show up within one to three days of last use, though they can develop as quickly as just a few hours after last use in extreme cases. Early withdrawal symptoms typically include the following:

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Teary or watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating

For most people, withdrawal symptoms peak around days five to seven and then begin to subside after that. Most acute withdrawal symptoms clear up after about a week. Later symptoms of opioid withdrawal include the following:

Later Symptoms of Withdrawal

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Dilated pupils

The above symptoms are the ones most commonly experienced by people going through opioid withdrawal. The good news is that none of these are life-threatening, though they can be extremely uncomfortable. It is possible, however, to experience more extreme withdrawal symptoms, such as dehydration, that have caused people to die.

How to Withdraw From Oxycodone Safely

The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus warns that attempting to detox from opioids on your own is very difficult and can be very dangerous. It is possible to detox on an outpatient basis through the use of medications and a strong support system, but it must be done very slowly (over many weeks) to be done safely.

Current best practices to ensure a safe withdrawal from oxycodone include medically assisted detox or medication-assisted therapy. Medically assisted detox is incorporated into most drug treatment programs. Medically supervised detox for opioid withdrawal includes using medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, anxiety, and physical distress.

Methadone and buprenorphine are two medications commonly used to support people through opioid withdrawal. By taking milder opioids and gradually reducing dosage amounts over time, people are far less likely to experience serious withdrawal symptoms than if they attempt to detox without the assistance of replacement medications. Replacement medications are designed to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay without producing the sensations of being high that so many people become addicted to.

“The goal of medically supervised withdrawal is to support people through the detox period so they can successfully move on to the next phase of treatment. Studies have found that people who receive medically assisted detox are far more likely to complete their treatment programs and maintain sobriety following treatment than people who detox without any medical assistance.”

What Happens After Detox?

Researchers and substance abuse professionals have found that detox alone does little to promote long-term sobriety. Following a successful detox period, people must complete comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs to learn essential life skills that equip them with the tools they need to lead healthy and substance-free lives. Participating in such programs helps people gain a better understanding of their substance use disorder and makes them much less likely to relapse following treatment.

Treatment programs are offered in many different forms, and they provide different levels of service based on the needs of the populations they serve. Whether an outpatient or inpatient program, residential or clinical setting, there are services you can expect to receive at the treatment facility you decide to attend. Treatment programs typically offer:

What Treatment Programs Typically Offer

  • Individual, family, and group therapy sessions
  • Education on drug use
  • Focus on building healthy coping skills
  • Education on healthy diet and exercise plans
  • Treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Identification of self-help groups, such as 12-step programs, to join
  • Creation of aftercare plans

What happens after detox is completely up to you. You may be enrolled in a drug treatment program that has a structured agenda, but it is up to you to engage in therapy and take advantage of the services being offered.

Detoxing from oxycodone is a physically and emotionally challenging process, but you don’t have to do it alone. Seek the care of qualified professionals to safely get you through this time and on to your path to long-term addiction recovery.

Oxycodone Addiction

As an opioid, oxycodone plays a significant role in the current opioid overdose epidemic that has swept across the United States. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recently released a staggering set of statistics based on data collected on opioid use in 2016. As of that year, the national opioid overdose epidemic produced the following figures:

  • Drug overdose was the leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • In 2015, more than 20,000 deaths were caused by prescription pain reliever overdose.
  • From 1999 to 2008, rates of overdose deaths and sales of prescription pain reliever increased fourfold; admissions to substance use disorder treatment programs increased sixfold.
  • In 2015, 122,000 youth (ages 12 to 17) were addicted to prescription pain relievers; 276,000 youth used pain relievers recreationally.
  • From 1999 to 2010, 48,000 women died of an overdose from prescription pain relievers, increasing more than 400 percent during this period.
  • Prescription pain reliever overdose deaths increased 237 percent among men from 1999 to 2010.

Because it can produce a euphoric high similar to heroin, oxycodone is widely misused. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that almost 176,000 admissions were made to emergency rooms in 2009 for oxycodone-related overdoses. Of the 1.2 million emergency room visits involving nonmedical use of prescription drugs, the most frequently abused drugs were opioids, which accounted for half of all admissions. Of the opioid-related incidents, oxycodone was the most frequently reported opioid that sent people to the hospital.

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