The Difference Between OxyContin & Oxycodone

While the terms OxyContin and oxycodone are oftentimes used interchangeably, there are important differences that separate the brand name extended-release medication (OxyContin) and generic opioid painkiller (oxycodone) that serves as its active ingredient.

Opioid abuse continues to be a pervasive problem in the state of Ohio, with opioid overdoses claiming the lives of more than 4,000 Ohio residents in both 2020 and 2021. 

Unfortunately, the medication OxyContin and its active ingredient oxycodone have played a major role in the escalation of this opioid epidemic over the past two decades.

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone hydrochloride is a semi-synthetic opioid drug prescribed in medical settings for moderate to severe pain relief. It can be found in both brand name and generic prescription pain medications, including combination pain relievers made with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Oxycodone is created in laboratories by modifying thebaine, a naturally occurring compound found in the same opium poppies which produce the opiate morphine.

However, oxycodone is up to twice as strong as morphine and is frequently misused for recreational drug abuse. This, along with oxycodone’s high potential for producing opioid addiction, is reflected in the drug’s classification as a Schedule II controlled substance.

OxyContin Vs. Oxycodone

Oxycodone medications were originally available only in short-acting, immediate-release oxycodone formulations, which are still commonly prescribed today.

However, in 1995 a new form of oxycodone known as OxyContin (oxycodone controlled-release) was approved by the FDA for medical use. 

OxyContin Is Extended-Release Oxycodone

OxyContin extended-release tablets, produced by Purdue Pharma, allowed the medication to be administered every 12 hours rather than every 4-6 hours, providing a better long-term solution for chronic pain management.

Unfortunately, regulators and prescribing healthcare professionals underestimated how addictive this new opioid medication could be, as well as how easily it could be tampered with and used for substance abuse. 

This led to a nationwide surge in opioid use and abuse, kicking off the ongoing American opioid epidemic.

Reformulated OxyContin

The medication was reformulated in 2010 to be more difficult to abuse through injection. Legal battles relating to the effects of OxyContin on American communities are ongoing.

Drugs Similar To Oxycodone

There are 18 opioid analgesics approved for use in the United States, ranging from drugs used as relatively low potency opiate pain relievers to hyper potent synthetic drugs.

The most well-known of these include:

Note that each of these different products may be available in a variety of brand name and/or generic versions, each of which may have different strengths and formulations.

What Opioid Drugs Have In Common

The risks and side effects of oxycodone (and similar opioid drugs) are broadly similar whether delivered in an immediate-release or extended-release tablet.

Mechanism Of Action

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors located in the central nervous system, and especially in the brain. 

This then releases large amounts of endorphins (pleasure hormones) and dopamine, changing how the body reacts to pain, relieving stress and apprehension, and (in higher doses) triggering a pleasurable euphoria that trains the brain to seek out and repeat this pleasurable experience.

Risk Of Addiction

Due to these effects, all opioids have the potential to be habit-forming and addictive, especially when used in high doses or taken over a long period of time. 

This often leads to the development of physical dependence as the body becomes reliant on the drug for its internal chemical balance, along with the compulsive use and behavioral and mental changes that constitute a substance use disorder (drug addiction).

Unfortunately, oxycodone and opioid drugs are commonly misused, or (in the case of illicit fentanyl, heroin, and counterfeit prescription drugs) covertly produced and smuggled into the country. These drugs may then be swallowed, injected, smoked, snorted, or plugged for their euphoric effects.

Side Effects

Many side effects can occur with opioid use, commonly including sedation, nausea, vomiting, constipation, lightheadedness, dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, or low blood pressure. Always let your provider know if you experience any serious side effects or adverse reactions.

Potential For Overdose

Oxycodone and other opioid drugs also all have the potential to be deadly in cases of drug overdose

As powerful central nervous system depressants, these substances can dramatically slow or stop a person’s breathing after an overdose, triggering a life-threatening and often fatal condition known as respiratory depression.

Opioid overdoses can be treated using the antidote drug Narcan (naloxone), which is available as a nasal spray. 

Treating Oxycodone Addiction

If you or a loved one struggle with oxycodone abuse or addiction, we can help. At Ohio Recovery Center, we offer a complete continuum of care for opioid use disorders, including:

Please reach out today to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding OxyContin And Oxycodone

OxyContin is a brand name for a controlled release form of oxycodone. While they contain the same drug, the method of release can result in some differences. These are some of the most common questions related to OxyContin and oxycodone.

OxyContin is not necessarily more dangerous that oxycodone when it is used according to a prescription provided directly to the patient using it.

However, researchers have found that there is a slightly higher risk of nonfatal opioid overdose when people use extended release medications like OxyContin.

This trend may be due to the delayed effects of drugs like OxyContin, which may lead to the person taking another dose if they believe the drug is not having the intended effect.

OxyContin is intended to provide long-lasting pain relief. Drugs like this play a vital role in helping people manage pain when non-opioid medications do not work.

Someone using oxycodone may have to remember to take their medication several times a day to avoid the resurgence of their pain; whereas, OxyContin can provide more continuous relief.

People who are prescribed habit-forming medications like oxycodone can avoid dependence, overdose, and other severe side effects by using their medication responsibly and practicing total transparency with their doctor.

It is important that your doctor is aware of any other drugs you may be using to avoid negative drug interactions. It is also important to talk to your doctor if you experience any signs of drug dependence.

The most common early warning signs are cravings, which may make a person feel the need to take their medication more frequently or in larger doses than originally prescribed.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/epidemic.html
  2. Data Ohio https://data.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/data/view/ohio-ibhd
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/Oxycodone%202022%20Drug%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
  4. Food and Drug Administration https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/timeline-selected-fda-activities-and-significant-events-addressing-substance-use-and-overdose
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682132.html#:~:text=Oxycodone%20is%20used%20to%20relieve,be%20treated%20with%20other%20medications.

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 22, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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