How Common is Oxycodone Abuse?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
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Oxycodone abuse is the non-medically approved use of this prescription-only opioid. Abuse can be defined as using the medication without prescription, using someone else’s medication, or using more medicine than prescribed. Some experts also suggest that it is abuse to use a prescription medicine for other than its intended or original purpose. If a person used oxycodone for a broken ankle, and then had a few pills left over that they used for another pain condition later on, this might qualify as abuse, though it is not technically illegal if the person had the medicine prescribed to him or her. Statistics on oxycodone abuse as defined suggest it is prevalent and problematic.

From the US Department of Health and Human Services, statistics on oxycodone abuse state that per year, about 11 million people in the US will use at least one dose of the opioid in a non-medical way. This may mean people use a dose not prescribed to them or they specifically use it to induce elevated neurotransmitter levels that can cause a “high.” In the US, about 100,000 people get admitted to hospitals for use of painkillers, but only some of these cases involve oxycodone abuse. Drugs like hydrocodone are responsible for about the twice the number of hospital admissions.


Those who commit oxycodone abuse at least once or use other painkillers tends to cluster around the age group of about 16-49. The highest likelihood seems to occur in the late teens and early 20s. In the past, oxycodone abuse may have been more concentrated in people in mid to upper classes, but this trend may be changing with availability of generics, which has brought down prices. There’s expectation of non-medical use growing among lower to lower-middle classes, and there was considerable protest on making generic forms available since it might translate to greater access and opportunity to abuse.

Those people who use oxycodone once will not necessarily become addicts. It usually takes sustained use to create a dependency which is not comparable to illegal addiction. There are many people with chronic pain who are dependent on their medication and who would suffer withdrawal if they had to stop taking it suddenly. Provided the medicine is used as directed, meaning taking no more of it than is prescribed, and it is obtained in a legal way, this is not oxycodone abuse. This is simply a side effect of the medicine and in no way an abuse of it.

It would be hard to estimate the number of people who are dependent on oxycodone, and determining oxycodone abuse that causes addiction is equally difficult. Addiction is extremely hard to overcome and many people will require drug rehabilitation treatment in order to quit. Of the prescribed pain relievers, oxycodone is one of the more difficult medications to stop taking because it tends to stimulate dopamine production. On the other hand, the benefits of ending an illegal addiction are numerous.


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