OxyContin is the brand name of a time-release formula of oxycodone produced by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995 and first introduced to the U.S. market in 1996. By 2001, OxyContin was the best-selling non-generic narcotic pain reliever in the U.S.; in 2002, over 7.2 million prescriptions were written for it, for total sales of $1.5 billion. An analysis of data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found that retail sales of oxycodone “jumped nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005.” Mundipharma distributes OxyContin in Australia, China, and Europe.
OxyContin is available in 5 mg (blue) tablets in Canada and the U.K.; 10 mg (white) in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.; 15 mg (grey) in the U.S.; 20 mg (pink) in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.; 30 mg (brown) in the U.S.; 40 mg (yellow) in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.; 60 mg (red) in the U.S.; and 80 mg (green) in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. In 2001, Purdue Pharma suspended distribution of 160 mg tablets in the U.S. because of the “possibility of illicit use of tablets of such high strength.”
Slang terms for OxyContin include “Hillbilly Heroin”, “Killers”, “OC”, “Oxy”, and “Oxycotton”. The word “OxyContin” should not be confused with “morphine sulfate”, “MS Contin”, “Oxandrin”, “oxybutynin”, “oxytocin”, or “Roxicodone”.
The most serious risk associated with opioids, including OxyContin, is respiratory depression. Common opioid side effects are constipation, nausea, sedation, dizziness, vomiting, headache, dry mouth, sweating, and weakness. Taking a large single dose of an opioid could cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death.
Chronic use of opioids can result in tolerance for the drugs, which means that users must take higher doses to achieve the same initial effects. Long-term use also can lead to physical dependence and addiction — the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped.Properly managed medical use of pain relievers is safe and rarely causes clinical addiction, defined as compulsive, often uncontrollable use of drugs. Taken exactly as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain effectively.