OxyContin Uses, Side Effects, and Dangers

OxyContin is an opioid medication that is commonly used to assist with pain management, improve sleep, and produce feelings of pleasure.1

Since its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996, OxyContin has received notoriety for its relationship to increased opioid misuse.3 In 2015, The FDA approved the use of OxyContin for children 11 and older. Many people expressed concern for the potential risks of increased opioid addiction in younger recipients.4

The harmful effects of opioid medications have impacted families, communities, and people across the world. OxyContin (a Schedule II narcotic) use and misuse can affect your health with potentially devastating consequences.

OxyContin vs. Oxycodone

What is the difference between OxyContin and oxycodone? One is derived from the other.

In 1916, researchers in Germany synthesized oxycodone for the first time.5 OxyContin is one of several medications derived from oxycodone. Other medications made from oxycodone include:

  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Roxicodone

The full name of OxyContin is oxycodone hydrochloride.6

Prescription OxyContin

Prescribers recommend the use of opioid medications, such as OxyContin, to manage moderate to severe pain.7 Prescribers may recommend OxyContin when other medications fail to adequately address pain symptoms. Pain associated with cancer and other medical conditions may qualify you for a prescription.8

OxyContin, taken orally, causes your brain to change the way it processes pain.7 Dosages for OxyContin take place on a schedule, as opposed to other medications which you can take as needed.

OxyContin dosage varies based on a number of factors including the length of time a person has taken opioids. Extended-release tablets may come in the following weights:9

  • 10 mg
  • 15 mg
  • 20 mg
  • 30 mg
  • 40 mg
  • 60 mg
  • 80 mg

Patients generally start with lower dosages to prevent dangerous side effects or overdose. These dosages may start at 10 mg every 12 hours.

Risks of Taking OxyContin

People who use this medication as prescribed may face serious health risks, up to and including death.9

People with breathing problems may face greater risks from taking this medication.9 Other factors that may increase health risks while taking OxyContin include:9

  • Seizures
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Stomach problems
  • A history of substance misuse or dependence
  • Pregnancy

Pregnant or breastfeeding women can pass the substance to their children.9 This raises the risk of their children experiencing severe health effects from OxyContin usage.

OxyContin can impair your ability to focus and can make operating heavy machinery dangerous.9 Using alcohol or other over-the-counter medications with OxyContin can increase your risk of overdose, death, or other side effects.9

Taking OxyContin as prescribed can lead to addiction or dependence, misuse, overdose, or death.9 People with a history of substance misuse or sensitivity to opioid substances face a higher risk of dependence and overdose on OxyContin.

You can develop an opioid use disorder while taking OxyContin when a prescriber fails to provide “appropriate medical supervision” or you misuse the medication.

OxyContin Side Effects

Possible OxyContin side effects include:9

  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea

More severe side effects include:9

  • Stong light-headed or dizzy feelings
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Facial swelling
  • Overdose
  • Death

The medication label may not include all potential side effects. If you experience severe side effects, call your medical provider or seek emergency medical care.

OxyContin Misuse and Addiction

Many people attempt to use OxyContin outside of its medical purpose. Opioid intoxication occurs shortly after recent opioid use and can lead to issues in behavioral or mental functioning:10

Symptoms of opioid or OxyContin intoxication include:10

  • Feeling euphoric
  • Apathy
  • Persistent feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction
  • Moving slower than normal
  • Restlessness and involuntary movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Forgetfulness
  • Coma

In rare circumstances, intoxication can lead to hallucinations.10

Beyond the effects of intoxication, people who misuse this medication face a higher risk of experiencing dangerous OxyContin side effects.9 The risks of OxyContin overdose are amplified with higher dosages and lower tolerance.9

Misuse occurs when a person ingests OxyContin in any way other than prescribed. Snorting or injecting OxyContin can result in an uncontrolled release of the medication, further increasing the risks of overdose.9

People who misuse OxyContin run the risk of becoming dependent on the medication. Misuse of multiple substances, including alcohol, can increase risks of overdose, due to depression of the central nervous system.9

Elderly or medically compromised people may experience greater sensitivity to the effects of OxyContin use and misuse.9

Signs of OxyContin Misuse

Signs of OxyContin misuse include:10

  • Taking more OxyContin or another opioid than intended
  • Inability to cut down or limit use
  • Strong cravings or desire to use this medication or other opioids
  • Continuing to use despite negative effects on health
  • Continuing to use despite negative effects on other areas of life
  • Continuing to use in dangerous situations
  • Increased tolerance, or a need to use more for the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms

If you begin a prescription for OxyContin or any other opioid medication, you should consult your doctor before you stop taking the medication.9 A doctor with adequate training in pain management treatment can help you step down safely from the medication.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when you stop taking this medication after a prolonged period of heavy use.10

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Symptoms of Withdrawal

Symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal include:10

  • Low mood
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach problems
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Insomnia

Signs of OxyContin Overdose

Taking too much of this medication, even as prescribed, can result in OxyContin overdose. Symptoms include:9

  • Clammy skin
  • Feeling cold to the touch
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slower heart functioning
  • Coma
  • A build-up of fluid in the lungs
  • Difficulty or inability to breathe
  • Low oxygen levels in other parts of the body

Overdose can be fatal.9 If you or a loved one show signs of OxyContin overdose or any other opioid substance, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

OxyContin Addiction Prevention and Treatment

With appropriate medical guidance, you can limit the potential harm that prescribed OxyContin can cause. Taking medications only as prescribed is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones. Monitoring OxyContin’s side effects can give you insight into any concerning changes that may occur while taking this medication.

Know your medical history and openly discuss the risks associated with OxyContin use. This information can help your doctor make the best recommendations for pain management. Always consult with your physician when choosing to stop this medication. Their guidance can help you manage or avoid unwanted symptoms of withdrawal.

Securing narcotic medications can prevent diversion and misuse. Choosing a provider with adequate training can ensure that medication is prescribed appropriately. Preventing misuse means using only what you need. If you have a history of substance misuse or dependence, take precautions and share this information when discussing pain management treatment.

Misuse, overdose, and withdrawal can have severe effects on your health and functioning. Seek medical attention immediately, if you experience symptoms of withdrawal, intoxication, or overdose.

Treatment for opioid dependence can take place in many stages:

Various options of OxyContin addiction treatment are available to meet each individual’s unique needs. If you need support managing OxyContin use, call 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) today to discuss your options and get help today.


  1. Olsen, Y. & Sharfstein, J. M. (2019). The Opioid Epidemic: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press.
  2. Powell, D., & Pacula, R. L. (2021). The Evolving Consequences of OxyContin Reformulation on Drug Overdoses. American Journal of Health Economics, 7(1), 41–67.
  3. Perrone, M. (2020). Experts: Revamped OxyContin hasn’t curbed abuse, overdoses. Associated Press.
  4. Hilton, L. (2016). Pediatric labeling for OxyContin. Contemporary Pediatrics, 33(9), 27–37.
  5. Ciulla-Bohling, R. (2019). Oxycodone. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.
  6. United States General Accounting Office. (2003). Prescription Drugs: OxyContin Abuse and Diversion and Efforts to Address the Problem.
  7. S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, February 15). Oxycodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information. MedlinePlus.
  8. WebMD. (n.d.). OxyContin Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing.
  9. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2021, March 4). Medication Guides.
  10. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-related and addictive disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  11. Van Zee A. (2009). The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: commercial triumph, public health tragedy. American Journal of Public Health, 99(2), 221–227.

the Take-Away

Understand OxyContin side effects and dangers of the drug before you start taking it. OxyContin use can lead to abuse and addiction.