Oxycodone vs. OxyContin: Similarities and differences

Oxycodone and OxyContin are two prescription medications that contain the same active ingredient: oxycodone. Oxycodone is an immediate-release tablet, whereas OxyContin is an extended-release formulation.

Doctors prescribe these medications for treating and managing pain. Oxycodone and OxyContin are part of the narcotic family of medicines, so they are subject to strict regulation because of their potential for addiction, abuse, and misuse. Depending on the type of pain, a doctor may choose oxycodone or OxyContin.

In this article, we review the similarities and differences between oxycodone and OxyContin.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved oxycodone for the management of acute or chronic pain. As oxycodone is a narcotic, doctors will reserve this treatment for people who are living with moderate-to-severe pain and have found other medications ineffective.

Oxycodone is a narcotic prescription medication. Other prescription oral narcotics available for pain treatment include:

  • codeine
  • morphine
  • hydromorphone

Among oral narcotic prescription medications, codeine is the least potent, and hydromorphone is the most potent. To compare different narcotic pain relievers, doctors convert the dose of the narcotic to the equivalent dose in morphine.

When switching a person from one type of narcotic to another, doctors must prescribe an equivalent dosage. The oxycodone-to-morphine dose equivalent ratio is approximately 1-to-1.5.

For people who find swallowing pills difficult, doctors may prescribe oxycodone in a liquid formulation. There are also some medications that combine oxycodone with other pain relievers, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and acetylsalicylic acid.

Oxycodone is an immediate-release tablet, so people can take this medication as necessary every 4–6 hours. The product information contains a warning about the risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse.

Some people require long-term narcotic therapy for pain. For these people, doctors should schedule regular follow-up visits. These visits should focus on reassessing the person’s level of pain and monitoring for signs of narcotic abuse.

OxyContin also contains the medicinal ingredient oxycodone, but it is in an extended-release formulation. These extended-release tablets offer longer lasting pain control than immediate-release oxycodone, which has a shorter effect on pain.

With the extended-release delivery system, the oxycodone in OxyContin provides continuous delivery over 12 hours. So, people take OxyContin twice daily.

The FDA approved OxyContin for the management of pain that is severe enough to require 24-hour pain relief. Doctors may prescribe OxyContin to someone experiencing severe, continuous pain for which no other treatments provide relief.

When doctors switch people from one narcotic to OxyContin, they must calculate the equivalent morphine dose. The OxyContin-to-morphine dose equivalent ratio is 1-to-2, which is slightly higher than that of the immediate-release oxycodone.

As with oxycodone, the product information for OxyContin contains an addiction, abuse, and misuse warning.

Doctors will reserve extended-release OxyContin for people with severe pain that requires 24-hour treatment. People with acute or chronic pain that is moderate to severe may take immediate-release oxycodone. As an add-on, some doctors may recommend oxycodone combination formulations, such as:

  • oxycodone-acetaminophen
  • oxycodone-ibuprofen
  • oxycodone-acetylsalicylic acid

These combination formulations offer additional pain relief or anti-inflammatory effects without increasing the dose of the narcotic.

Oxycodone is effective for:

Oxycodone can replace morphine and hydromorphone for cancer-related pain because researchers have not demonstrated any evidence of a significant difference in pain relief and side effects. Clinical experience, however, suggests that oxycodone is superior in the treatment of cancer-related pain and some pain conditions, such as bone pain.

OxyContin has significantly improved pain control among people living with moderate-to-severe chronic osteoarthritis. Doctors can prescribe OxyContin to adults and opioid-tolerant children aged 11 years and older. These children must already be receiving and tolerating at least 20 milligrams of oxycodone.

People can take oxycodone regularly or just when necessary, depending on what the doctor advises. OxyContin is not indicated for occasional use only when a person needs relief.

Those who cannot swallow pills whole cannot take OxyContin because it is not possible to cut, break, chew, crush, or dissolve these pills. Breaking the outer layers of the tablet will compromise the extended-release effect, and the whole dose will enter the body immediately.

As both oxycodone and OxyContin contain the same medicinal ingredient, people may experience similar side effects with either drug. These can include:

Oxycodone, whether in an immediate-release or extended-release formulation, is not suitable for all individuals. Some contraindications to using oxycodone medications include:

  • respiratory depression
  • unmonitored bronchial asthma
  • hypersensitivity to oxycodone
  • known or suspected ileus or digestive obstruction

Oxycodone and OxyContin contain the same active ingredient: the prescription narcotic oxycodone.

The difference between these two drugs is how the tablet releases the medication. OxyContin tablets release oxycodone continuously throughout the day, whereas the release of oxycodone is immediate.

People can take oxycodone when necessary for moderate-to-severe pain, but people who need around-the-clock pain relief should take OxyContin.

Both oxycodone and OxyContin have the potential for addiction, abuse, and misuse, so doctors will closely monitor people taking these pain relievers.

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