What is the Difference Between Hydrocodone and Oxycodone?

hydrocodone and oxycodone

Opioids are some of the most addictive drugs and they are the driving force behind the majority of drug overdose deaths today. In 2020, more than 9.3 million people abused prescription opioids, 2.3 million had an opioid use disorder, and more than 16,416 people died as a result of an overdose involving prescription opioids.[1]

Two of the most widely abused prescription opioids are hydrocodone and oxycodone.

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone, also known as dihydrocodeinone, is an opioid drug that is used to treat moderate to severe pain.[2] It is the most frequently prescribed opioid medication in the United States.

When prescribed as a pain reliever, hydrocodone comes in the form of a pill and is often combined with acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer. Common brand names for hydrocodone/acetaminophen tablets include:

  • Norco
  • Vicodin
  • Vicodin ES
  • Lorcet
  • Lortab

Hydrocodone is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cough suppressant, so it is often added to prescription cough syrups. Brand names for cough syrups containing hydrocodone are:

  • Tussigon (hydrocodone/homatropine)
  • Hydromet (hydrocodone/homatropine)
  • Hycodan (hydrocodone/homatropine)
  • Obredon (hydrocodone/guaifenesin)
  • Flowtuss (hydrocodone/guaifenesin)
  • Tussionex (hydrocodone/chlorpheniramine)

Hydrocodone is designated a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency indicating a high potential for abuse and dependence.[3]

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a narcotic analgesic (opioid) that is sold under various brand names, including:[4]

Like hydrocodone, oxycodone is also designated a Schedule II controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse and addiction.

Similarities

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both synthetic opioids that are synthesized in a lab. They have the same mechanism of action and similar side effects. Both drugs are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that slow down activity in the CNS and throughout the body. The drugs work by binding to and activating opioid receptors in the brain to disrupt pain signals, thereby providing pain relief.

The effects of a hydrocodone high are very similar to an oxycodone high. Both drugs have the same side effects, including:

  • Euphoria (in high doses)
  • Calmness and relaxation
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Itching
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation

When taken in high doses, both opioids can cause respiratory depression and overdose. Signs of an opioid overdose include slow breathing, small pupils, unresponsiveness, blue skin or lips, irregular heartbeat, and respiratory failure.

Finally, both drugs can be addictive when abused, causing people to require professional opioid addiction treatment.

Differences

Hydrocodone is derived from codeine which is why it can be used as a cough suppressant. Oxycodone is not, so it is not approved for use as a cough suppressant.

Another difference between hydrocodone and oxycodone is that oxycodone may be more likely to produce drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches, while hydrocodone is more likely to cause stomach pain and gastrointestinal upset.

Many opioid users report that they prefer oxycodone over hydrocodone because the effects are more potent.[5]

Signs of Prescription Opioid Addiction

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are effective at treating pain when they are taken as prescribed, but when they are abused they are highly addictive. Common signs of prescription opioid addiction include:

  • Visiting multiple doctors to try to get multiple prescriptions–also known as doctor shopping
  • Developing a tolerance to opioids that requires you to increase your dose over time
  • Having symptoms of withdrawal after stopping taking opioids or skipping a dose
  • Lying to friends and family about your drug use
  • Wanting to stop using but being unable to do so
  • Making multiple failed attempts to stay sober
  • Having regular drug cravings
  • Continuing to use opioids despite the negative effects they are having on your life

If you or a loved one think you may be addicted to opioids, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Find Help for Opioid Abuse and Addiction

Leaving an addiction to hydrocodone or oxycodone untreated can be extremely dangerous, resulting in life-threatening consequences or death. The sooner you seek treatment, the better outcomes you may experience, and the faster you can start feeling better.

At Moving Mountains Recovery, we understand how serious opioid addiction is. We are passionate about helping people find freedom from their addiction and rebuild their lives on a strong foundation of recovery. We have a team of motivated and compassionate professionals that are dedicated to helping people recover. We are ready to answer any questions about opioid addiction and help where we can. Please give us a call today!

References:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse: What is the scope of prescription drug misuse in the United States?, Retrieved Jan 2023 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration: Hydrocodone, Retrieved Jan 2023 from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/hydrocodone.pdf
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration: Drug Scheduling, Retrieved Jan 2023 from https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration: Oxycodone, Retrieved Jan 2023 from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Oxycodone-2020_0.pdf
  5. National Library of Medicine: Factors influencing the selection of hydrocodone and oxycodone as primary opioids in substance abusers seeking treatment in the United States, Retrieved Jan 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24287106/
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