OxyContin Settlement, Physical Dependence and Addiction

OxyContin Settlement, Physical Dependence and Addiction


To a person whose life has been ravaged by Purdue Pharma’s Oxycontin, the fact that three Purdue Pharma executives pleaded guilty to misleading the public regarding the dangers of OxyContin and agreed to a $634.5 million fine is interesting but not that comforting.

No one doubts that OxyContin is a dangerous drug. This settlement is just a confirmation of what people working in the medical detox field already knew. In fact, Florida State medical examiners state that people die every day from illegally obtained prescription drugs, and that OxyContin and oxycodone products are major sources of overdoses and deaths.

While those harmed by OxyContin may be able to receive some monetary compensation from the class action lawsuits being filed against Purdue Pharma, they share a fate with other victims of prescription drug abuse-in order to regain control of their lives they have to detox from the drugs.

These painkiller prescription drug victims may have begun taking the drug because it was supposed to help handle pain or depression or anxiety. However, for most of these people, there is only one thing that the person knows-if they stop taking the drug they will experience withdrawal symptoms that will likely be very uncomfortable and may even be fatal.


At Novus we see these victims of prescription drugs every day, but we also see how their lives improve as they complete their detox. As our patients go through their detox and start to feel better, many will ask us if they were addicted or had just become physically dependent.

What is physical dependence? Physical dependence occurs when the body is physiologically changed by the drug and a person experiences withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not taken or the dosage is dramatically reduced.

A person can become physically dependent on painkillers, medications and on other substances. Many people who take blood pressure medicine become physiologically dependent on the medicine and their blood pressure will soar if they stop taking the medicine.

If you are a long-time coffee drinker or consumer of sodas which have caffeine, you have likely experienced the withdrawal effects if you suddenly stop drinking coffee or the sodas. The body has become physically dependent on the caffeine. The withdrawal symptoms include headaches, insomnia, nervousness and erratic behavior and having a difficult time “getting awake” in the morning.

All of us know that taking sleeping pills for too long can make us physically dependent on them to go to sleep. If the sleeping pills are not taken, withdrawal symptoms and insomnia can result. Others have found that taking laxatives for too long has resulted in a physical dependence on them and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.

A person who is taking painkiller prescription drugs to control actual pain often becomes physically dependent on them to control the pain. If the person abruptly stops taking the drug or greatly reduces the dosage, they will experience withdrawal symptoms and often a recurrence of the pain.

However, if you are physically dependent on a prescription drug that doesn't necessarily mean that you are addicted.


Prescription drug addiction is the continued use of the prescription drug, not for medical reasons or for pain relief but because of the way that one feels after taking the drug-often described as a type of euphoria feeling or a “mellow” feeling or sometimes, in the case of many drugs, to not feel a certain way.

The more one is addicted, the more one’s use of the drug becomes compulsive despite negative consequences which can be severe. To get the prescription drug, addicted people will often lie, doctor shop to get more drugs, sell and buy drugs on the street, deny drug use if asked and, in short, do things that they would never do otherwise.

As we have discussed in previous articles, there are frequently strong withdrawal symptoms if the addicted person stops or reduces the use of these prescription drugs. This is happening for a number of reasons, but all are related to the fact that there have been some physiological changes in the body that have altered the way the body normally functions.

For example, if someone is addicted to OxyContin, their body’s natural production of endorphins has been reduced and the sudden withdrawal from OxyContin will produce many of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal-sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches and inability to sleep.

If someone is addicted to an anti-depressant, like Paxil, their natural way of handling serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain that is thought to help regulate a person’s emotions and things like sexuality and appetite, is changed. If the person decides to stop taking the drug they will likely experience feelings of depression and sometimes even become suicidal.


Generally, there is a physical dependence to a prescription drug to which one is addicted and the difference between dependence and addiction are often subtle. While taking painkillers and anti-depressants to treat physical or mental pain is often the only solution offered by traditional medicine and the drug companies, the risks of physical dependence and addiction are high and you are only treating symptoms. Painkillers don't heal pain and anti-depressants don't cure depression, they disguise it and should only be used if doctors who are seeking to treat the cause-not the symptom, are unable to help.

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