OxyContin addiction has been called an epidemic, and it’s spreading fast.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), prescriptions for OxyContin increased 20-fold within four years from the prescription drug’s market debut. Intended for the pain management of cancer patients and others with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic back pain, or sickle cell anemia—all patients who endure prolonged periods of pain, the increase in OxyContin use can only be described as phenomenal. If zero to 6 million in four years (from 1996 to 2000) is fantastic, how about the leap from 6 million to 50 million in eight years? That was the number by 2008; 50 million prescriptions for OxyContin had been dispensed.

Authorities say most of these prescriptions have been for noncancer patients. OxyContin is in fact the most frequently prescribed brand-name narcotic drug for moderate-to-severe pain in the United States, as pain reliever for injuries, bursitis, dislocation, fractures, neuralgia and post-operative surgeries. Its active ingredient is oxycodone, a central nervous system depressant derived from opium. It is just like morphine though more recent studies have found that oxycodone is twice as potent.

With its controlled-release feature, OxyContin is the longest lasting oxycodone on the market, with efficacy up to 12 hours and dosage availability of up to 80 mgs. It proved superior to other oxycodone products like Percocet, Percodan and Tylox because the controlled-release feature of OxyContin allowed it to carry more of the active ingredient in a single tablet.

Being an opioid, OxyContin has euphoric effects similar to that of heroin. Addicts are said to be always on the lookout for drugs that are intense and fast-acting. Thus, when the OxyContin label warned against dissolving the drug in water, crushing or chewing it, that’s exactly what some people did and so discovered a new upper. Soon, they learned it could be snorted and injected as well.

Tampering with its controlled-release feature in these ways, the potent OxyContin became to many a cheap way to get high. Authorities say this was the impetus for the now widespread illegal use of OxyContin. Aside from the heroin addicts, OxyContin found a market as well with cocaine users because it is said to be a downer for these folks. It has also become popular with teens experimenting on drugs.

The abuse and misuse of OxyContin became evident as early as 2000 when authorities got wind of more and more teen deaths or emergency room cases associated with this drug. Toxicology tests have in fact established that OxyContin could be fatal by itself or mixed with either alcohol and/or other drugs (polydrug use). Regular opioid users develop tolerance for the drug so for instance, if they were taking 60 mgs of oral morphine per day or 30 mgs of oral oxycodone per day, they wouldn’t have a problem ingesting 60 mgs or 80 mgs of OxyContin. But new users who right away take 80 mgs or more could simply stop breathing and die. If not managed properly, the use of this drug could also be fatal to those who are on muscle relaxants and sedatives or those who have bronchial asthma. Persons who are on such drugs as erythromycin, ketoconazole or ritonavir are also advised to take OxyContin only under doctor supervision.

For sure, OxyContin addiction has ruined many lives. Otherwise upstanding individuals, including medical professionals, have been lured to prescription fraud by big bucks from the illegal distribution of this drug. All of a sudden, pharmacy heists became a law enforcement problem, with addicts resorting to this quixotic tactic to get their supply of OxyContin. Hundreds of teens, many of whom were first-time users, have died from OxyContin complications in a span of just 10 years. Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that about 500,000 people aged 12 or older were new non-medical users of the drug. In short, approximately half a million people were using OxyContin illegally in the United States alone.

Hundreds of families have sued Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, precisely for this reason. In court cases all over the country, parents say the manufacturer is criminally liable for deaths induced by OxyContin because the latter overpromoted the drug and failed to prevent its illegal use.

Perhaps because fake OxyContin pills have started to circulate in the market, Purdue Pharma has announced that it would introduce a reformulated version of its very popular drug, which it said would have tamper-resistant properties. The new OxyContin version would not only look significantly different than the ones in circulation in terms of size and markings, but would transform into a gummy substance when tampered with—thereby preventing its intravenous intake. The reformulated OxyContin will be distributed by the third quarter of this year to totally replace the old pill version, according to Purdue Pharma.

But you don’t have to wait until then to act on OxyContin addiction, if it is in any way affecting your life. The telltale signs of OxyContin addiction are extreme weight loss, nausea and severe stomach cramps, cold sweats, a bad combination of diarrhea and constipation, insomnia which then leads to falling asleep at odd times, muscle or bone pain, as well as tremors, twitching or excessive scratching. OxyContin addicts also seem to be frequently sick, have watery or sunken eyes and constricted pupils, and may appear to be drunk even without alcohol intake. They also use various code names to refer to the drug. Among its known street names are OC, OX, Oxy,Oxycotton, Hillbilly heroin, 80’s, beans, Orange Crayons or simply kicker.

Just like with any addiction, psychological dependence is the hardest to deal with. A person who has become addicted to OxyContin associates his or her happiness with the drug. Thus, the craving for the drug is constant and ever-increasing. This is where psychotherapy comes in. Usually done one-on-one with a professional, psychotherapy addresses the individual’s motivation or the underlying reason for an addiction.

From my personal experience of battling porn addiction, I have found that Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy really works. ERP helps an individual to gradually understand what motivates an addiction. In the book Kill the Craving: How to Control the Impulse to Use Drugs and Alcohol, the authors present a self-administered form of ERP, which is focused on what one gains from staying clean and sober. It is a powerful tool to deal with any form of addiction because as any psychotherapist or recovering addict will tell you, there is no end to addiction until the psychological and emotional aspects are addressed. I have talked about ERP in an earlier post so feel free to look around the site for that and other topics of interest. I have also compiled a list of 12-step programs you may want to check out, particularly the link to Pills Anonymous.