What Are the Effects and Risks of Snorting Oxycodone?

snorting oxycodone information

“Recovery is hard. Regret is harder.”

~ Brittany Burgunder

In recent years, opioid prescriptions have surged in popularity in the United States. Experts have termed this phenomenon the “opioid epidemic” due to the large number of deaths resulting from it. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that healthcare providers dispensed more than 255 million opioid prescriptions or approximately 81 prescriptions per 100 people. By 2020, this number had decreased to 142 million opioid prescriptions per year, or 43.3 prescriptions per 100 people.1

Oxycodone is one of the most frequently used opioid medications. Drugs in the opioid class contain chemicals that bind with neurotransmitters in the brain and central nervous system to relieve pain. During this binding process, opioids also release large amounts of dopamine, causing many users to experience intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure.2

Health care professionals use oxycodone and other opioids to treat patients who have moderate to severe pain that less powerful medications can’t manage. However, the drug can also have long-term effects on how the brain processes pain and pleasure. As a result, many users develop a physical or psychological dependency on oxycodone, which can lead to many negative health consequences. 

One common way that people misuse oxycodone is by snorting the medication. However, this method can have serious consequences for your health. Read on to learn about the effects and dangers of snorting oxycodone. 

What Is Oxycodone and How Is It Used?

Oxycodone is a legal opioid medication that prescribers use to provide relief for moderate to severe pain. Health care providers should only prescribe oxycodone if non-opioid medications or opioid combination products have failed to manage patients’ pain adequately.

For example, physicians may prescribe oxycodone to relieve acute or chronic pain caused by:

  • Cancer3
  • Diabetic neuropathy4
  • Shingles5

Oxycodone is available in several formulations that metabolize at different speeds and last for different amounts of time. These formulations include:

  • Immediate-release Capsules or Tablets: These medications provide fast relief for patients experiencing moderate to severe pain. The capsules or tablets start acting on the body within 10 to 30 minutes of consumption, providing relief for three to six hours. Generally, adults can take 5 to 15 mg of immediate-release oxycodone every four to six hours as needed for pain, with dosage increases if lower amounts do not effectively relieve pain.6
  • Extended-release Oxycodone Tablets: Often referred to by the brand name OxyContin, this controlled-release formula is available in five strengths: 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, 80 mg, and 160 mg. However, only opioid-tolerant patients should take the two highest dosages due to the increased risk of overdose.7 OxyContin takes effect within one hour. The body metabolizes this version more slowly than immediate-release oxycodone, releasing the medication over the course of 12 hours.6
  • Oxycodone Hydrochloride Oral Solution: This is a liquid version of oxycodone that users take orally. Like the immediate-release version, the liquid oxycodone is typically administered orally every four to six hours in initial doses of 5 to 15 mg.8
  • Oxycodone and Acetaminophen Combinations: Commonly known as Percocet, this medication combines varying strengths of oxycodone hydrochloride with the over-the-counter painkiller acetaminophen. For instance, the medication is available in 2.5 mg/325 mg and 5 mg/325 mg dosages, with the first number representing the amount of oxycodone in the medication and the second representing the amount of acetaminophen. Generally, providers will prescribe one tablet of Percocet every six hours as needed to control pain.9

The United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes all versions of oxycodone as Schedule II controlled substances, including Percocet. Medications with this classification have legitimate medical uses, so they are legal to take when prescribed by a qualified health care professional. However, they have a high risk for misuse, which can cause users to develop physical dependence. As a result, the government closely regulates Schedule II drugs, though these rules do not prevent all instances of oxycodone abuse.10

How and Why Do People Snort Oxycodone?

People who misuse oxycodone frequently turn the medication into powder and inhale the substance intranasally. For instance, individuals can easily crush some versions of OxyContin tablets into a fine powder and snort it. A 2018 study found that 52% of people who misuse oxycodone self-administer the medication intranasally.11

Other illicit methods of taking oxycodone include chewing tablets, dissolving the medication in water and injecting the resulting solution intravenously.

The FDA has only approved oxycodone for oral administration as prescribed by a health care professional.7 Misusing oxycodone by crushing the medication and ingesting it intranasally disrupts the drug’s controlled-release mechanism. As a result, the medication is rapidly released and metabolized into the user’s body.

People who snort oxycodone typically prefer this method because the rapid release causes them to experience enhanced and immediate feelings of euphoria. However, this uncontrolled absorption is very dangerous because it can lead to overdose and even death.

Side Effects of Snorting Oxycodone

You can experience side effects after taking any prescription medication, even if you use the drug exactly as your doctor directs. However, misusing oxycodone by snorting it heightens your risk of experiencing a severe adverse reaction.

For instance, in the 2018 study, 46.7% of subjects who intranasally ingested crushed immediate-release oxycodone experienced at least one side effect.11 The most common adverse reactions observed during the study were:  

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Hiccups
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Pruritus, or an intense itching sensation
  • Vomiting

Long-Term Effects of Snorting Oxycodone

In addition to the short-term side effects that can occur shortly after snorting oxycodone, ingesting opioids intranasally can cause serious long-term effects, including:

  • Nasal irritation
  • Nasal necrosis and/or perforation12
  • Necrosis of the soft palate13
  • Velopharyngeal dysfunction, which can lead to issues like difficulties speaking14

Snorting oxycodone can also lead to physical dependence on the drug and an increased risk of overdose.

Oxycodone Withdrawal, Dependence, & Addiction

Anyone who uses oxycodone to treat chronic pain for an extended period can develop a physical dependence on the drug. However, abusing the medication by snorting it can increase your risk of becoming physically dependent because the release of the drug during intranasal ingestion is much more powerful than taking the medication orally.

If you develop a physical dependency on oxycodone, you may experience opioid withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or abruptly stop your intake. During withdrawal, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:7

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and vomiting
  • Increased heart or respiratory rate
  • Joint pain
  • Physical weakness

It’s important to note that physical dependence on oxycodone is not the same as addiction, which the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders terms as a “substance use disorder.15 In the context of opioid use, addiction refers to the psychological craving for the medication, not the physical side effects resulting from dependency. Additionally, you can develop a substance use disorder even without experiencing physical dependence.16

Symptoms of a substance use disorder include:15

  • Experiencing intense cravings for the drug
  • Investing a significant amount of time in getting and using the drug
  • Making multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit the substance or dial back your intake
  • Needing to consume increasingly large doses of the substance to obtain the same effect  
  • Reduced ability to satisfy important obligations for your career, education, or family
  • Using the drug in unsafe environments  

Overdose Risk, Signs, & Treatment

An overdose is one of the most significant risks of snorting oxycodone. Between April 2020 and April 2021, an estimated 100,306 Americans died from drug overdose deaths.17 If you intranasally ingest oxycodone, you have a heightened risk of dying due to the rapid, uncontrolled release of the drug into your bloodstream.

You can suffer a life-threatening oxycodone overdose for a range of reasons, such as:18

  • Improperly mixing oxycodone and other risky substances, like alcohol or Xanax
  • Misusing oxycodone by chewing, injecting, or snorting it
  • Taking oxycodone that has been prescribed for someone else

Prompt medical treatment is essential for people who have suffered from an opioid overdose. You should immediately call 911 if you observe any of these symptoms after you or someone else ingests oxycodone:

  • Blue lips
  • Extremely pale skin
  • Limpness
  • Purple or blue fingernails
  • Slow or stopped breathing
  • Slow or stopped heartbeat

After calling 911, you should perform CPR if necessary. Additionally, if you have access to the opioid antagonist drug naloxone, you should administer it to the person while waiting for paramedics to arrive. This medication can help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

When To Seek Help for Oxycodone Substance Use Disorder

Do you snort oxycodone, or are you considering using this method of administration? Do you misuse oxycodone in other ways, such as chewing tablets, obtaining the medication through illicit means, or taking a higher dose than prescribed? If so, these could be signs that you have developed a substance use disorder.

If you suspect that you may need treatment to address your oxycodone usage, plenty of rehabilitation options can help you regain your health and regain control over your life. For instance, outpatient behavioral treatment programs can help you develop new strategies to overcome drug use. Additionally, inpatient facilities provide comprehensive resources, supervision, and treatment for individuals with a substance use disorder.19

Don’t wait until your misuse of oxycodone escalates further. Reach out to a recovery support specialist today to learn about the appropriate treatment options for you and jumpstart your journey to rehabilitation.

Don’t wait. Reach out to a recovery support specialist today.

Resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November). US Opioid Dispensing Rate Map.
  2. National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2021, June). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.
  3. Medical Science Monitor. (2020, January). Controlled Release of Oxycodone as an Opioid Titration for Cancer Pain Relief: A Retrospective Study.
  4. National Library of Medicine. (2016, July). Oxycodone for Neuropathic Pain in Adults.
  5. Clinical Trials. (2017, April). Effect of Early Use of Oxycodone During the Acute Phase of Herpes Zoster on Preventing Postherpetic Neuralgia.
  6. National Library of Medicine. (2022, March). Oxycodone.
  7. Federal Drug Administration. OxyContin HCI Label.
  8. Federal Drug Administration. (2018, September). Oxycodone Hydrochloride Oral Solution CII.  
  9. Federal Drug Administration. Percocet.
  10. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency. Controlled Substance Schedules.
  11. Pain Medicine. (2018, March). A Randomized, Double-Blind, Double-Dummy, Placebo-Controlled, Intranasal Human Abuse Potential Study of Oxycodone ARIR, a Novel, Immediate-Release, Abuse-Deterrent Formulation.
  12. Postgraduate Medicine. (2018, July). Abuse of Immediate-release Opioids and Current Approaches to Reduce Misuse, Abuse and Diversion.
  13. Ear Nose Throat Journal. (2005, August). Total Necrosis of the Intranasal Structures and Soft Palate as a Result of Nasal Inhalation of Crushed OxyContin.
  14. The Laryngoscope. (2018, May). Velopharyngeal Dysfunction from Intranasal Substance Abuse: Case Series and Review of Literature.
  15. DSM Library. Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders.
  16. Annals of Medicine. (2021, November). Drug Dependence Is Not Addiction—And It Matters.
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November). Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually.
  18. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022, August). Opioid Overdose.
  19. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.

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