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Oxycodone Overdose: Signs & Symptoms

oxycodone overdose signs

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid used as a prescription drug to treat moderate to severe pain.

Other brand names for oxycodone include OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, and Roxicet. Like other opioids, both illicit and prescription, how oxycodone affects the brain makes it highly addictive. Usually, people who abuse oxycodone become addicted to it. Long-term users are at a higher risk of experiencing oxycodone overdose, mostly because they’ve become so tolerant to the drug’s effects. Our Banyan rehab in Gilman, Illinois, shares more about the signs and symptoms of oxycodone overdose and why it happens.

How Oxycodone Affects the Brain

Oxycodone affects the brain by attaching itself to specialized proteins called mu-opioid receptors located on neurons in the brain. It also activates the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward system in the brain, stimulating another part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), resulting in the release of a chemical called dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, causing a pleasurable high. Other areas of the brain store the memory of these good feelings and their association with drug use. Formally known as conditioned associations, they often lead to cravings for the drug and can be triggered by people, places, or things that remind the individual of drug use.1 Opioids like oxycodone are prescribed to alleviate pain, but when used in higher doses than prescribed, the high they produce can motivate people to continue using. Most people who find themselves a victim of opioid use disorder often require opioid detox treatment to recover.

Can You Overdose on Oxycodone?

Yes, you can overdose on oxycodone. Oxycodone overdose has become an especially serious problem in the United States due to the current opioid crisis. Nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019 were linked to opioids. Among the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the opioid epidemic is oxycodone.2 A drug overdose is the body’s biological response to ingesting too much of a substance or mix of substances. An overdose can be either intentional or unintentional.

Oxycodone and other opioids are among the easiest to overdose on. The body contains opioid receptors in several areas of the body, such as the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract, making it both effective in pain treatment but also dangerous when abused. When someone uses an opioid, all of these receptors are activated, and certain bodily functions begin to slow down. An oxycodone overdose happens when a body takes so much of the drug that it blocks these receptors, preventing them from performing their functions. Without medical treatment, a person can die from an oxycodone overdose.

Oxycodone Overdose Symptoms

How much oxycodone it takes to overdose greatly depends on how long the person has been using the drug. For instance, one study found that out of 221 oxycodone overdose deaths, 134 (61%) of people took prescriptions of 10 mg for immediate-release oxycodone.3 However, a person who’s been using oxycodone for a long time would have a higher tolerance to it than a first-time user. An oxycodone overdose either accidentally occurs when someone takes more than they were prescribed without realizing it or intentionally when a person who’s addicted takes more to experience a high. Long-time users have higher tolerances, which means they’ll need to take more and more of the drug to experience the same side effects, which is most often what leads to overdose.

An oxycodone overdose can be a terrifying experience that presents various symptoms. When a person ingests a high dosage of oxycodone, it can overwhelm the body and cause biological reactions. Basic functions like breathing and thinking are compromised, putting the individual at risk of dying. The sooner the first signs of oxycodone overdose are recognized, the better the person’s odds of surviving.

Oxycodone overdose symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Tiny, unreactive pupils
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pale skin
  • Blue-like color to lips and nails
  • Limp body and limbs
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Non-responsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Extremely slow or stopped breathing
  • Seizures
  • Slowed heart rate

Many people who obtain oxycodone illicitly mix it with other drugs or alcohol. Mixing drugs may heighten the side effects, but doing this also increases the risk of overdose. Additionally, many oxycodone products also contain other drugs like acetaminophen or aspirin, each of which poses its own overdose dangers. The oxycodone overdose timeline is uncertain. The duration of oxycodone overdose symptoms is dependent on the dosage taken and the person’s tolerance to the drug. Any other substances that were taken in conjunction with oxycodone can also affect how long these symptoms last.

Abusing oxycodone automatically increases your risk of overdose brain damage. Additionally, without opioid addiction treatment, long-time users may experience relationship problems, increased susceptibility to infection and disease, job termination, and more.

If you or someone you know has a drug or alcohol problem, now is the time to get help. Call Banyan Heartland now at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our inpatient substance abuse treatment in Illinois.

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.