Hillbilly Heroin: What Is It And Is It An Epidemic?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 15, 2021

OxyContin (oxycodone) is a prescription opiate painkiller that is sometimes known as “hillbilly heroin”. People that abuse OxyContin can experience strong negative side effects, including overdose and death.

What Is Hillbilly Heroin?

Hillbilly heroin is another term for the prescription painkiller oxycodone — a semisynthetic opioid made under the brand name OxyContin by Purdue Pharma.

This drug has gained national notoriety as an easily accessible alternative to heroin.

It is being abused across rural regions and Appalachian states alike, such as:

  • West Virginia
  • southern Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • New York

OxyContin is known as hillbilly heroin because it’s cheaper and more readily available.

How Does OxyContin Compare To Heroin?

OxyContin can be obtained illegally or by prescription. The practice of doctor shopping or using “pill mill” facilities are both ways of getting the drug that authorities are cracking down on.

OxyContin Potency

In terms of strength, higher doses of OxyContin are needed to achieve the same high available from heroin.

Oxycodone is about 1.5 times as potent as morphine. Heroin is between 2 to 5 times more potent than morphine.

How Is OxyContin (Hillbilly Heroin) Abused?

As with other opioids, people that snort, smoke, or inject drugs achieve a short, but very strong high compared to taking pills orally.

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Any method of OxyContin abuse may result in additional short- and long-term effects beyond euphoria, sedation, and numbness that is expected.

People that abuse OxyContin may:

Short-Term Side Effects Of Oxycodone

A person that regularly takes prescription opioids like oxycodone can expect short-term side effects that slow down major system functions due to the depressing impact that OxyContin has on the central nervous system.

A person that takes oxycodone may experience side effects like:

  • slowed heart rate and low blood pressure
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • slowed breathing
  • constipation
  • nausea and vomiting

Long-Term Effects Of Hillbilly Heroin

Chronic or intense periods of oxycodone abuse increases the risk of irreversible mental and physical effects. Extended use also creates tolerance, addiction, and dependency.

A person that takes oxycodone may also take other drugs like other opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol — all of which can contribute to long-term health problems and accidental deadly overdoses.

Risk Of OxyContin Overdose

When too much oxycodone is ingested or is taken with a benzo like Xanax, the body may become overwhelmed and respond strongly.

Life-threatening symptoms of an opioid overdose include respiratory depression and a slowed heartbeat.

If treated quickly at an emergency department, a person undergoing overdose may be saved with naloxone (Narcan).

Some signs of a potentially fatal oxycodone overdose include:

  • weak pulse and heartbeat
  • irregular or weak breathing
  • gurgling or choking noises
  • lost consciousness
  • seizure / shakiness
  • pinpoint pupils

Can Hillbilly Heroin Drug Use Lead To Withdrawal Symptoms?

OxyContin has a high potential for abuse and physical dependency. When a person that has taken OxyContin regularly suddenly stops, their body will respond strongly to the drug’s absence.

Some medical therapeutics like supervised methadone tapers and buprenorphine administration can help people manage physical withdrawal symptoms.

OxyContin withdrawals can be uncomfortable, mentally taxing, and potentially dangerous.

OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • fever
  • seizures
  • panic attacks
  • nausea/vomiting
  • shakiness
  • trouble sleeping
  • muscle aches
  • high blood pressure
  • elevated heart rate
  • hallucinations
  • mood swings
  • irritability, depression, anxiety

Getting Help For Opioid Drug Use

Substance abuse involving illicit drugs in any form can be detrimental to anybody’s pursuit of a healthy life. If you or a loved one has been misusing prescription drugs like OxyContin, help is available.

Call our addiction specialists to learn more about inpatient and outpatient treatment options that can put you on the road to recovery.

From detox and withdrawal recovery to behavioral therapies, we can help you throughout the recovery process. Call today to get started.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 15, 2021
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