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Dangers of Smoking and Snorting OxyContin

What is OxyContin?

OxyContin is a branded, extended-release tablet form of the opioid painkiller oxycodone.1

Especially when misused, OxyContin’s rewarding, euphoric effects contribute to its high rate of abuse. Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, indicating that while it has a legitimate medical use, it is also has a high potential for abuse and dependence.2

Using OxyContin in any manner other than as prescribed constitutes abuse of the drug.3People who misuse OxyContin have been known to crush the pills and then snort them in an attempt to attain a faster onset, more intense high.2

What are the side effects of Oxycontin?

Oxycodone has many potential side effects, some of which may be made worse by misusing the crushed tablets.These include:1,4

  • Confusion.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Drop in blood pressure.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Slowed or stopped breathing.Tablets

Because tampering with the tablets may inactivate the intended time-release mechanism of the drug, overdose death from respiratory depression may be more likely among users who crush the pills for intranasal or injection use or use the drug in other unintended ways.4

Snorting OxyContin

Some users crush OxyContin pills and snort the resulting powder in an effort to achieve a faster, more intense high. This does in fact, bypass the extended-release mechanism of the pills to produce an immediate release of the drug. Individuals using the drug this way may be prone to overdose and to developing an addiction. 3

Additionally, snorting OxyContin is associated with a unique set of risks in addition to the full list of side effects of general OxyContin use. These include:5,6

  • Sinusitis.
  • Chronic runny nose.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Diminished sense of smell.
  • Problems swallowing.
  • Hoarseness of the voice.

Snorting any drug regularly can lead to significant damage to the nose and nasal passages. Repeated intranasal use of oxycodone may even lead to local mucosal tissue necrosis and eventual perforation of the nasal septum. Oftentimes, this damage is irreversible and must be corrected with surgery.6

Signs that someone is snorting OxyContin or other opioid painkillers include:

  • Excessive nose blowing despite a lack of allergies or a cold.
  • Redness around the nostrils.
  • Chronic nosebleeds.

Effects of Smoking OxyContin

Smoking an opioid is one of the fastest ways to deliver the substance to the brain. This rapid delivery is associated with a very quick onset of effects and a powerful high. Using a drug like OxyContin—which is intended for oral use—in such a manner could represent an escalation in compulsive patterns of misuse and a furthering of the development of an opioid addiction.7,8

A recent study surveyed hundreds of young adults in NYC nightlife venues and reported that nearly 1 in 5 survey respondents had smoked prescription drugs. In general, survey responses suggested that the use of the drugs in question began with oral consumption but then eventually progressed to smoking. The same study found a significant impact of smoking on drug-related problems.8

Risks associated with this particular method of use include:9,10

  • Rapid development of opioid dependence.
  • Blocking of air into the lungs.
  • Worsening of asthma-related problems.
  • Lung infections.

Overdose

Though overdose is always a risk any time someone abuses OxyContin, it is more likely if the person takes the drug in ways . In addition, the risk of overdose may be amplified if they combine OxyContin with alcohol or certain other substances of abuse (especially those with respiratory depressant effects).4

If overdose is suspected, prompt medical attention is necessary. Signs of an overdose on OxyContin include:11

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Vomiting.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slowed heartbeat.
  • Extremely slow breathing.
  • Bluish tint to the fingers or lips.
  • Coma.

If you suspect you or someone you are with is overdosing on OxyContin, call 911 immediately. OxyContin overdose can be deadly.

References:

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Oxycodone.
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2014). Oxycodone.
  3. Lofwall, M. R., Moody, D. E., Fang, W. B., Nuzzo, P. A., & Walsh, S. L. (2012). Pharmacokinetics of intranasal crushed OxyContin and intravenous oxycodone in nondependent prescription opioid abusersJournal of clinical pharmacology52(4), 600–606.
  4. Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Oxycodone.
  5. NYC Health. (n.d.). Cocaine abuse and addiction.
  6. Insys Development Company, Inc. (2016). Naloxone for Treatement of Opioide Overdose. 
  7. Genetic Science Learning Center. (n.d.). Drug Delivery Methods.
  8. Kelly, B. C., Vuolo, M., Pawson, M., Wells, B. E., & Parsons, J. T. (2015). Chasing the bean: prescription drug smoking among socially active youthThe Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine56(6), 632–638. 
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Respiratory Effects. 
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (1997). Smoking Any Substance Raises Risk of Lung Infections.
  11. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Hydrocodone/oxycodone overdose.
About The Contributor
Scot Thomas, M.D.
Senior Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating... Read More