Oxycodone and hydrocodone are powerful opiate drugs prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain associated with surgery, injuries or cancer. In some cases, doctors prescribe the medications for people with arthritis or other chronic pain, usually when other attempts at pain control have failed.
Although both can be taken alone, both are frequently combined with non-narcotic or other medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin to treat pain, fever or coughs. Both medications are highly addictive.
Oxycodone and hydrocodone present a number of potential side effects, including:
- Dry mouth
Oxycodone and hydrocodone have much in common, but if your doctor describes either medication, it’s important to know the differences.
Pure hydrocodone is often taken in extended-release form, which allows the pain-reliever to work over a longer period of time. It is sold by trade names such as Hysingla ER (taken every 24 hours) or Zohydro ER (taken every 12 hours). It generally isn’t prescribed on an as-needed basis.
Hydrocodone is also available in a number of combinations, including the following:
- Combined with acetaminophen to treat pain, marketed as Lortab, Norco, Vicodin, etc.
- Combined with aspirin to treat pain, marketed as Allor, Allay, Panadol, etc.
- Combined with ibuprofen to treat pain, marketed as Ibudone, Vicoprofen, Reprexain, etc.
- Combined with homatropine to treat coughs, marketed as Hydromet, Hycodan, etc.
- Combined with chlorpheniramine to treat hay fever, allergies and colds, marketed as Vituz, Zutripro, etc.
Like hydrocodone, oxycodone was originally developed in early 1900s as a safer, less addictive alternative to morphine and codeine. It is often known as hillbilly heroin or oxy.
Oxycodone is taken every 12 hours in controlled release form, or more often in an immediate release form. It generally is taken around the clock until the prescription ends or the physician says to stop. It isn’t usually prescribed on an as-needed basis.
Although oxycodone is available in tablets, capsules, liquid, and suppositories, tablets are prescribed most often.
Once a popular drug among abusers who prefer injecting pills crushed and mixed with water, a new formulation in 2014 turned oxycodone and water into a thick, gooey gel that doesn’t lend itself to injection.
Pure oxycodone is marketed as OxyContin. However, oxycodone is also available in a number of combinations to treat pain, such as the following:
- Combined with acetaminophen, marketed as Oxycet, Percocet, Roxicet, etc.
- Combined with ibuprofen, marketed as Combunox.
- Combined with aspirin, marketed as Percodan, Roxiprin, etc.
What are the Differences?
Addictive potential: Both drugs have tremendous potential for substance abuse or addiction, but oxycodone tends to be abused more often, even though it usually costs more than hydrocodone.
In a study involving opioid addicts in rehab, most indicated they prefer the high produced by oxycodone – especially young men who are more inclined to take risks.
Most indicated they prefer to use oxycodone in its pure form because high doses of acetaminophen can cause pain when injected, as well as an increased risk of liver damage. (Until recently, hydrocodone was not available in a pure form).
Hydrocodone is often the drug of choice for women and older people who don’t want to deal with a drug dealer, or to inject drugs.
Pain control: A study involving people treated for fractures indicated there is very little difference in pain management between oxycodone and hydrocodone
Side effects: It appears that side effects are similar, although people who take hydrocodone are more likely to complain of problems with constipation and stomach pain, while oxycodone users experience more headaches, drowsiness, dizziness and fatigue.
The most important takeaway is that oxycodone and hydrocodone are both highly addictive but addition to opioids is treatable. If you or somebody you care about is abusing opioid medications, it’s best to seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab before the problem gets worse.