If you’re dealing with severe pain, chances are you’ve come face-to-face with the hydrocodone vs. oxycodone dilemma. After all, these are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for pain management.
If you’re wondering how these medications compare, keep reading.
This hydrocodone vs. oxycodone comparison guide will cover the key similarities and differences between these two substances.
What is Hydrocodone and How Does it Work?
Hydrocodone is a potent opioid pain medication prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain that can’t be soothed by non-opioid painkillers.
As a semi-synthetic opioid, hydrocodone can be derived either from codeine or thebaine, both of which are alkaloids found in poppy plants.
Most often, hydrocodone is prescribed as a combination medication containing acetaminophen, an over-the-counter painkiller that enhances its effects. By itself, hydrocodone only comes in an extended-release formulation.
Common street names for hydrocodone include:
As an opioid, hydrocodone effectively relieves pain and discomfort by attaching to opioid receptors and blocking the transmission of pain signals between the body and the brain.
Additionally, this medication can produce feelings of euphoria by activating dopamine release. This makes it very easy to abuse the drug, as some might be tempted to take more of it just to induce the relaxing, feel-good effects.
That said, hydrocodone is classified as a Schedule II drug due to its high potential for abuse and addiction. You should always take it as prescribed to minimize the risk of dependence and addiction.
What is Oxycodone and How Does it Work?
Like hydrocodone, oxycodone is a Schedule II semi-synthetic opioid painkiller used for pain management, typically in cases when non-opioid pain medication doesn’t help or cannot be used.
However, unlike hydrocodone, oxycodone can only be derived from thebaine.
Oxycodone (commonly sold as OxyContin®, Oxaydo®, and Roxicodone®) is available by itself in the form of oral solutions and immediate or extended-release tablets and capsules.
It can also be prescribed as a combination drug containing oxycodone and acetaminophen, commonly marketed under Percocet®, Endocet®, Nalocet®, and other brand names. “Oxy,” “percs,” “hillbilly heroin,” and “kicker” are all common street names for oxycodone.
Like hydrocodone, oxycodone is an opioid and thus alleviates pain by interacting with opioid receptors. At the same time, it can cause euphoric feelings, which increases its potential for misuse and addiction.
Major Differences Between Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s compare hydrocodone vs. oxycodone in terms of effectiveness, chemical composition, and cost.
Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Effectiveness
Although some people think that hydrocodone is weaker than oxycodone, these painkillers are both very potent and similar in terms of effectiveness.
A study comparing hydrocodone and oxycodone for acute pain treatment found that both of these drugs produce the same level of pain relief. Although they’re equally effective, hydrocodone was found to cause constipation more commonly than oxycodone.
Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Chemical Composition
The chemical structure of both hydrocodone and oxycodone is similar, as they belong to the chemical class of phenanthrenes and closely resemble morphine.
While they’re both commonly prescribed in combination with acetaminophen, oxycodone is more often used by itself than hydrocodone. For this reason, oxycodone might be a better choice for people with impaired liver function, as combining opioids with acetaminophen increases the risk of liver damage.
Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Addictiveness
As Schedule II controlled substances, both hydrocodone and oxycodone carry a high potential for addiction. Since they alter the brain chemistry, patients can get easily addicted to them, especially if they use these medications for a long time or abuse them.
Both hydrocodone and oxycodone have a similar potential for abuse. Research on the relative abuse liability of popular prescription opioids found that hydrocodone and oxycodone are not only equally potent but also equally likely to lead to opioid abuse.
Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Cost
The cost of hydrocodone and oxycodone varies depending on prescription strength, form, and other factors, though it tends to be fairly similar.
For example, a generic tablet of 5 mg/325 mg hydrocodone-acetaminophen is sold for more or less $0.19, whereas the cost of a generic oxycodone-acetaminophen tablet of the same strength is around $0.21.
Meanwhile, a single tablet of 5 mg/325 mg Norco® (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) costs approximately $0.58, while that of Endocet® (oxycodone/acetaminophen) may cost you around $0.25.
Naturally, brand-name versions of both hydrocodone and oxycodone are more expensive than generic ones, but their prices can vary from one brand to another.
Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Side Effects
While hydrocodone and oxycodone are very similar, the most striking difference lies in their side effects.
Besides constipation, hydrocodone is more likely to cause stomach ache than oxycodone.
Meanwhile, oxycodone tends to cause fatigue, lightheadedness, and drowsiness more often than hydrocodone.
Other than that, these drugs share similar side effects, including:
- Stomach ache
- Dry mouth
- Swollen lips, tongue, and face
- Itchy skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heartbeat
Drug Interactions of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone
To reduce the risk of side effects and opioid overdose, always inform your doctor about any other medications or supplements you’re taking.
Mixing either of these drugs with central nervous system (CNS) depressants is particularly dangerous. It can slow your breathing, reduce your heart rate, induce a coma, and cause death. Almost 14% of people who died from an opioid overdose in 2021 were also found to have taken benzodiazepines.
With that in mind, here are some drugs that could interact with hydrocodone and oxycodone:
- Antifungal medications
- Anxiety medications
- Muscle relaxers
- Other opioids
- Seizure medications
Other Risk Factors of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone
Hydrocodone and oxycodone might not be the right medication for you if you have any of these conditions:
- Liver disease. Hydrocodone and oxycodone can exacerbate liver problems. Mixing these drugs with acetaminophen or alcohol increases the risk of liver failure.
- Pregnancy. Both hydrocodone and oxycodone can affect your pregnancy and your baby’s development. Their use can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome, premature labor, birth defects, stillbirth, and other devastating consequences.
- Respiratory disease. Opioids can cause respiratory depression and worsen any breathing problems you may already have, such as asthma.
To minimize the risks associated with hydrocodone and oxycodone use, make sure to discuss your medical history in detail with your doctor.
Hydrocodone and oxycodone also carry a very high risk of opioid abuse, which can lead to dependence and addiction.
According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, hydrocodone and oxycodone were the two most commonly misused prescription painkillers in 2021. An overwhelming 77.3% of respondents reported misusing either of these two drugs specifically.
Physical Dependence and Addiction to Opioids
Even when taken exactly as prescribed, hydrocodone and oxycodone can still lead to opioid dependence and addiction. Anyone taking these drugs risks becoming addicted to them.
If you take hydrocodone or oxycodone, your body eventually gets used to these drugs and develops tolerance to them. In turn, you may no longer feel their effects unless you increase the dosage.
Over time, you may feel like you can no longer normally function without them since the absence of these medications might induce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This is a sign of physical dependence on opioids.
If you continue taking these drugs to prevent withdrawal, dependence could lead to opioid addiction, a condition marked by physical, cognitive, and other symptoms that makes it incredibly difficult to control opioid use.
Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is characterized by the continued use of opioids in spite of their negative effects on your life.
The most common signs and symptoms of opioid addiction include:
- Experiencing intense cravings when not taking opioids
- Continuing to take opioids even after your medical condition has improved
- Taking opioids at increasingly higher doses or more frequently than prescribed
- Being preoccupied with getting, using, and recovering from opioids
- Neglecting social and professional obligations and activities to use opioids
Although opioid addiction can be devastating and potentially life-threatening, the good news is that it can be treated. No matter how long you or someone you love has been struggling with it, it’s always possible to achieve recovery from opioids.
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We hope you found this comparison of hydrocodone vs. oxycodone helpful and informative.
Before you go, let’s reiterate the key points we covered:
- Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both semi-synthetic opioids that have pain-relieving properties but can be highly addictive.
- Comparing hydrocodone vs. oxycodone shows that these medications are very similar, but they differ in terms of side effects: hydrocodone frequently causes constipation, while oxycodone is more likely to make you feel tired and dizzy.
- By addressing the underlying cause of opioid addiction, ANR allows you to recover from opioids within a matter of days.