Snorting Oxycodone and the Dangers Associated With It

Last Updated: October 26, 2020

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Inhaling drugs through the nose, or insufflation as it is scientifically known, is an ancient practice. Many of the popular drugs like tobacco that are now burnt and smoked used to be snorted through the nose.
Why is simply ingesting a drug not enough for drug abusers now and why do they resort to snorting?  Insufflation speeds up the effects of narcotics on the central nervous system and produces a more intense high. The answer lies in the anatomy of the nose and link to the body.

Why Do People Snort Oxycodone?

People snort oxycodone to bypass the extended-release mechanism that was designed to prevent users from abusing the drug. Snorting oxycodone allows the nasal membrane to quickly absorb the contents of the pill into the bloodstream, causing the user to feel “high.”
The nose is basically a hole in front of the face with bones and cartilages, divided by the nasal septum. Behind the nose are four sinus chambers and they extend as far back as the throat and contain folds of bones and cartilages called turbinates. These turbinates increase the surface area of the mucous membrane which lines the whole internal structure. The mucous membrane is densely packed with blood cells which is why when drugs are snorted through the nose, the effect is almost immediate.
The drugs snorted head from the nose down to the heart and then to the lungs to get oxygenated. Once oxygenated, that blood goes back to the heart and then is circulated all over the body.
Contrary to popular belief, snorting is not the quickest high. Even smoking is known to be quicker as the breath already oxygenates the blood and comes with it the chemical compounds which cuts out the trip from the nose to the heart to the lungs and back again. The problem with snorting, however, is that the nose is not evolved to be able to process that many particles and over time the mucous membrane wears down. Perforation of the nasal septum (the bridge that holds up the nose physically), chest infections, nose bleeds and inflammation may result. Some people go on to lose their sense of smell and even the nose itself can eventually collapse.

Dangers of Snorting Oxycodone

A lot of regular prescription drugs for pain relief such as Percocet, Percodan, Roxicet and Oxycontin now contain varying levels of oxycodone. People who abuse these drugs grind them up into powder form and snort it through the nose. Snorting this drug fast tracks the effects of the narcotic on the central nervous system which results in the high that addicts seek.
Since oxycodone was introduced into drugs like oxycontin in 1996, the incidence of overdose have been on a rapid rise. Also, it is estimated that 9 percent of people living in the US have or will abuse oxycodone in their lifetime. Over 13 million people in the US alone have abused oxycodone for non-medical purposes. There are so many risks associated with the abuse of this drug and they are amplified if the protective coating is removed as the drug now crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly.
The risks associated with snorting this drug include but are not limited to;A sharp drop in blood pressure.

  • A sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Irregular breathing and heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Cardiac arrest

Chances of overdose are increased if this drug is taken in combination with alcohol. The immediate effects of snorting oxycodone include light-headedness, dizziness, mood swings, drowsiness, vomiting, headaches and inflammation of the nose. Upon overdose, all of these effects can be greatly amplified and result in more grave issues like cardiac arrest, coma, and death.

Side Effects Of Snorting Oxycodone

Some of the dangers of snorting oxycodone include:

  • Sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Nasal Inflammation/ irritation
  • Irregular breathing and heartbeat
  • Damage of nasal membrane
  • Perforation of septum
  • Nose bleeds
  • Respiratory infections
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Cardiac arrest

As with all other addictive drugs, prolonged use of oxycodone will make the individual highly dependent on the drug and upon quitting, several withdrawal symptoms will arise and they can be experienced as early as a few hours after the last dose. Some of these withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Seizures.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How Many People In The U.S. Abuse Oxycodone?

For decades, pharmaceutical companies had been searching for a non-addictive painkiller derived from the opioid family. With the advent of the opium abuse in the beginning of the 19th century, a German pharmacist isolated morphine from opium as a non-addictive alternative and cure for opium abuse. But morphine was also found to be extremely addictive in the mid-1800s. In a quest to create a less addictive morphine variant, heroin was developed which turned out to be even more potent and addictive compared to morphine. When heroin was pulled from the market in the early 1900s, some German scientists came together and developed oxycodone which was a semi-synthetic opioid that was hoped would be less addictive than morphine and be used for an array of painkillers. For years pharmaceutical companies developed various drugs that were a mixture of a smaller dose of oxycodone and other painkillers. A few years down the line, oxycontin was developed and although the pill contained a much higher concentration of oxycodone, it was able to get FDA approval because it was designed to slowly release over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, users soon found a way to bypass this slow release of the pill by crushing it into powder form and snorting or injecting it to get high.
More than 13 million people in the US have abused oxycodone for non-medical purposes. It is estimated that nine percent of people in the US have or will abuse oxycodone in their lifetimes.
As at 2010, oxycontin was the second most abused drug in the US. Efforts have since been made to make oxycontin crush and injection resistant and this has caused the misuse of oxycontin to reduce but many believe that former oxycontin addicts have abandoned the pill for a cheaper easier fix from heroin. In spite of all the efforts towards making oxycontin safer, it still remains a potentially addictive drug even for people who use it legitimately and in recommended doses.

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Published on: August 17th, 2016

Updated on: October 26th, 2020

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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