Select Page


While oxycodone was first developed in 1917 as an opioid alternative to morphine for pain control, the widespread phenomenon of oxycodone addiction has only appeared in the last few decades. Oxycodone is prescribed by doctors for treatment of moderate to severe pain of both the acute or chronic variety, although it is more commonly prescribed for chronic pain. Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opiate, meaning that the original molecule is found naturally in the poppy plant and that molecule is chemically altered to synthesize the drug. The drug is approximately 1.5 times as potent as morphine in relieving pain.

photo of a fist crushing oxycodone pills

Overcoming the Time-Release Features of Oxycodone

Oxycodone is available in a range of strengths, containing anywhere from 10 mg to 160 mg. Most of its formulations have a time-release element to ensure a steady supply of the drug over time to patients in pain. However, when an individual develops an oxycodone addiction, they often crush the tablets, defeating the time-release mechanism and enabling them to get a much more intense high from the drug. Once crushed, the oxycodone addict can swallow, snort or dissolve and inject the drug. This process makes the user much more likely to overdose on the drug or more quickly develop a stronger addiction to it than if they had used it in the form it was intended.

Even the Additives Can Kill You

Percodan and Percocet are trade names for combination drugs that include oxycodone as one of the constituents. Percodan contains aspirin and Percocet contains acetaminophen (Tylenol). The abuse of these opiate drugs can not only create the problems associated with oxycodone, but in addition can lead to other medical problems. Since those addicted to opiates take more mediation than prescribed, to use copious amounts of oxycodone, substantial amounts of aspirin (Percodan) or acetaminophen (Percocet) are also introduced into the body. When high doses of aspirin are taken, it can lead to respiratory, cardiac, kidney and bleeding disorders. An acetaminophen overdose can cause liver failure and death.

Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Addiction

  • Loss of control over use
  • Using the medication even when not experiencing pain
  • Tolerance, and the onset of withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
  • Social, work, financial, school and other problems
  • Doctor shopping
  • Obtaining the drug through illegal sources, including borrowing or stealing from others
  • Nodding off
  • Behavioral changes
  • Secrecy and manipulation
  • Social withdrawal and isolation

The Way Addicts Feed Their Oxycodone Addiction

Although many oxycodone addicts begin their descent into oxycodone addiction by taking the drug as prescribed by a physician, they eventually need to discover other ways to procure the drug as their prescriptions run out or can’t keep pace with their growing tolerance for the drug. They often resort to “borrowing” or stealing pills from friends or family members with prescriptions, buying oxycodone on the streets illegally, stealing from pharmacies, or engaging in any number of illegal acts from shoplifting to prostitution to acquire funds to fuel their addiction.

Fueling an Addiction Takes Many Forms

photo of doctor with hand held out with icon of shopping cart above his hand

“Doctor shopping”

photo of a person pickpocketing a wallet out of a person's backpack

Stealing from friends or family

photo of two people in the act of buying and selling drugs on a street corner

Buying “on the streets”

photo of a person working in a pharmacy stealing oxycodone from the stock room

Theft from pharmacies

photo of a woman shoplifting from a pharmacy


photo of a prostitute leaning up against a car talking to th


The Crackdown on Oxycodone Addiction

Because of the current opioid epidemic plaguing the U.S. and other regions, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various medical and governmental bodies have attempted to combat the epidemic by severely limiting the prescription of oxycodone. This is an effective way to limit the number of people who are initially exposed to this drug through legitimate prescriptions. As part of this crackdown many “pill mills” that were prescribing tremendous amounts of oxycodone on often flimsy evidence of medical need have been shut down across the country. This has helped to slow the growth of oxycodone addiction but has also had many unintended consequences, particularly for individuals who have already developed an oxycodone addiction.

Unintended Consequences of the Prescription Opiate Crackdown

As the supply of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone has shrunk due to stricter prescription guidelines and the closing of prescription pill mills and interdiction of illegal foreign shipments, individuals suffering from oxycodone addiction have found it more and more difficult to procure a supply of the drug either legally or illegally. For those who did not seek treatment for their addiction, many have simply switched to a cheaper and more readily available alternative opiate, which in most cases is heroin. This has led to the unintended consequence of a rapid rise in heroin abuse in the United States in the “post-crackdown” era.

Those addicted to prescription opiates like oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem

How the Availability of Oxycodone Changed Heroin Consumption Patterns

Data compiled from individuals entering treatment for heroin addiction dramatically illustrates how oxycodone availability and addiction has disrupted the historical pattern of heroin exposure and use over the last few decades in the United States. Among individuals in treatment who began using opiates in the 1960’s, more than 80 percent started their opiate use by using heroin. As the decades progressed, these “heroin-first” opiate addicts began declining just as the number of “prescription opiate-first” opiate addicts began increasing.

line chart illustration showing most heroin addicts starting out using prescription opiates first

For those starting opiate use in the 1990’s, these trend lines converged with roughly equal numbers of these eventual heroin addicts beginning their opiate use with prescription opiates or heroin respectively. By the 2000’s the historical pattern had been completely reversed with the vast majority of addicts in treatment for heroin addiction having begun their opiate use by using prescription opiates. Only with the recent crackdown on prescription opiate prescribing and distribution have these trend lines begun to converge again for those starting their opiate use in the decade of the 2010’s. This data illustrates how the explosion in the availability of prescription opiates such as oxycodone has led to a new breed of heroin addict who began their road to heroin addiction by abusing and becoming addicted to oxycodone and other prescription opiates.

The Rise of Fentanyl

In addition to being cheaper and more readily available, heroin is also much more likely to be “cut” or mixed with other substances. Historically, many of these agents were inert elements purely designed to extend the supply of heroin by adulterating it with similar-looking non-drug substances so that dealers could make higher profits. Recently however, fentanyl has been increasingly used to enhance the potency of heroin as it is exponentially cheaper and more powerful. This makes any heroin bought on the street a potentially life-threatening gamble as addicts never know the actual strength of the drug they are consuming. The massive recent increase in opiate overdose deaths is a direct result of a multi-step process whereby those with an oxycodone addiction (or addiction to another prescription opiate) switch to heroin at a time when fentanyl adulteration has become the norm. These intersecting trends have led to a massive spike in opiate overdose deaths.

Oxycodone Addiction Treatment

The treatment for oxycodone addiction typically begins with treatment in an inpatient drug detox. Following treatment in an inpatient opiate detoxification center, it will likely be recommended that the opiate addict continue his/her treatment at an inpatient or residential drug rehab. The risk of relapse for oxycodone addicts after detoxification is extremely high if continued care is not provided. Also, a relapse after detox is associated with a high rate of opiate overdose because the person is no longer able to tolerate the same extreme amounts of the drug as in the past.

It is paramount that anyone with an oxycodone addiction develops a dedicated support network and a realistic aftercare plan after completing inpatient drug rehab. Sometimes, a long-term stay at a sober house has been proven to be beneficial. Attendance at self-help groups, exercise, diet and spiritual activities have also been shown to be effective. If the person who has become addicted to oxycodone also suffers from chronic pain, a reputable and quality pain treatment center should be sought and the recovering addict must be completely honest about his/her opiate addiction so that the appropriate treatment is rendered.

Fight Back Against Oxycodone Addiction Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with an oxycodone addiction, get help before it’s too late. The drug treatment professionals at BWR have helped countless oxycodone addicts confront this potentially deadly disease and start down the path to a happier and healthier life. Call us today at 800-683-4457 to get the help you need. We have operators available 24/7 to get you started on the road to recovery. Call us today to get started!



Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

Your decision to regain your life helps and heals your entire family. Do it for them. Do it for you.


1301 Wrights Lane East, Ste. 103
West Chester, PA 19380
Serving Philadelphia, PA, Lancaster, PA and Wilmington, DE