Comparing Oxycodone vs. OxyContin: What Are the Differences?

Addiction is just a way of trying to get at something else. Something bigger. Call it transcendence if you want, but it’s a rat in a maze. We all want the same thing. We all have this hole. The thing you want offers relief, but it’s a trap.

~ Tess Callahan

Health care professionals typically use drugs in the opioid class to treat moderate to severe pain caused by serious conditions like cancer. Currently, Oxycodone and Oxycontin are two of the most commonly used—and, in some cases, abused—opioid medications in America.1

If you have been prescribed one of these medications or read news articles about them, you may be asking a common question: What are the differences between oxycodone and OxyContin?

Both oxycodone and OxyContin are highly effective pain relievers that prescribers may order after less powerful drugs fail to control patients’ pain adequately. Both medications also contain oxycodone as one of their active ingredients. However, there are variations between the two medications, including the length of time the drugs stay in your system and the price you may pay for them at the pharmacy.

Read on to learn more about the differences between oxycodone and OxyContin.

What Are the Differences Between Oxycodone and OxyContin?

There are two primary differences between oxycodone and OxyContin:

Duration of Effects

Most significantly, the two drugs will act on your system for different lengths of time. Oxycodone is an immediate-release medication that generally takes effect 10 to 30 minutes after ingestion. The drug will last an average of three to six hours, meaning that patients need to take more frequent dosages to experience around-the-clock pain relief.  

By contrast, OxyContin is an extended-release medication that takes effect within one hour of ingestion. The drug has a controlled release mechanism, meaning that it slowly releases oxycodone into your body over the course of 12 hours. As a result, patients need to take fewer dosages over a day to control pain.2

Cost

OxyContin is a brand-name medication that Purdue Pharma has manufactured since 1996.3 Oxycodone is a generic medication produced by several manufacturers, including Roxane Laboratories Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Research has shown that competition among generic drug manufacturers causes the generic versions to cost up to 79% less than their brand-name counterparts. As a result, you may pay less at the pharmacy for generic oxycodone than for the brand-name OxyContin.4

What Is Oxycodone and Why Is It Prescribed?

Oxycodone is an immediate-release narcotic drug used to treat moderate to severe pain that results from acute or chronic conditions. This medication is available in two forms: capsules and tablets.

Currently, the immediate-release capsule version is only available in a dosage of 5 mg. The capsules have a half-life of approximately four hours, meaning the body metabolizes half of the medication in the first four hours after ingestion.5

Oxycodone immediate-release tablets come in strengths of 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg.2

Oxycodone Side Effects

Oxycodone can cause numerous side effects. Most notably, the medication can impair users mentally or physically, so you should not drive a car or engage in other risky activities until you understand how the drug impacts you.

Common adverse reactions to oxycodone include:5

  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Vomiting

Other side effects occur less frequently, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia 
  • Anorexia
  • Bronchitis
  • Cardiovascular symptoms like hypotension and palpitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sweating

If you develop uncomfortable side effects after ingesting oxycodone, you should consult with your physician before continuing to take the medication.

What Is OxyContin and Why Is It Prescribed?

OxyContin is a controlled-release narcotic that slowly releases oxycodone into the bloodstream over an extended period.6 The drug comes in tablet form, and health care providers can prescribe five dosage strengths: 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, 80 mg, and 160 mg. However, the 80 mg and 160 mg dosages should only be used in patients who have built up a high tolerance to opioids and who no longer receive adequate pain relief from the lower dosages.

This medication has a biphasic, or two-part, absorption pattern. The drug first releases half of its oxycodone within the first 0.6 hours after ingestion and then releases additional oxycodone around 6.9 hours later. This dual-release mechanism allows OxyContin to provide immediate and long-lasting relief with a single dosage.

Like oxycodone, health care providers can prescribe OxyContin to help manage moderate to severe pain that occurs continuously and over a long period of time. For instance, people with some forms of advanced cancer may be prescribed OxyContin. Physicians should not use OxyContin to treat pain immediately following surgery.

OxyContin Side Effects

Because oxycodone and OxyContin have the same active ingredient, they cause many of the same adverse reactions in users. For instance, like oxycodone, OxyContin frequently causes constipation, dizziness, headache, and nausea.

However, research suggests that patients may tolerate OxyContin better than immediate-release pain medications, such as morphine and oxycodone. For example, a 2019 study reported that 62.2% of cancer patients experienced mild or moderate side effects while taking immediate-release morphine. By contrast, only 53.8% of cancer patients experienced similar adverse reactions when taking OxyContin.7

Similarly, the FDA reports that patients treated with OxyContin experienced slightly lower rates of adverse effects than patients who took immediate-release oxycodone. For instance, 26% of patients experienced constipation after taking immediate-release oxycodone, as opposed to 23% of OxyContin users.6 These findings suggest that OxyContin may cause fewer side effects than oxycodone, though your experiences may vary while taking these drugs depending on your individual physiology.

Long-Term Effects of Oxycodone and OxyContin Use

The United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has designated oxycodone and OxyContin as Schedule II controlled narcotics. The FDA gives this label to prescription medications that can cause patients to develop serious physical or psychological dependence if abused.8

Some people misuse oxycodone and OxyContin by crushing the tablets and inhaling the powder intranasally. You can also abuse the drugs by dissolving them in water and injecting the resulting solution into your veins.9 However, both drugs should only be swallowed orally and used as directed by your healthcare provider. Crushing or dissolving the medications will release a large amount of the active ingredient oxycodone into your system at once, increasing the risk of an overdose or death.10

Taking oxycodone and OxyContin can also have several long-term and potentially fatal health effects. Examples of these severe adverse reactions include:

  • Pregnancy Complications: Taking oxycodone while pregnant can harm the fetus by causing embryo-fetal toxicity, which occurs when the opioid crosses the placenta and impacts the fetus directly.11 Additionally, if a pregnant patient uses oxycodone or OxyContin for an extended period, their child may be born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and require treatment after birth.5
  • Serotonin Syndrome: Also known as Serotonin Toxicity, this rare drug reaction can occur when the body creates too much serotonin in response to oxycodone and OxyContin. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include agitation, gastrointestinal upset, hallucinations, loss of physical coordination, and overactive reflexes. Serotonin syndrome can be deadly if untreated, so seek medical care immediately if you suspect that you have developed this condition.12

Oxycodone and OxyContin can also cause users to develop a substance use disorder. Additionally, patients can overdose and experience withdrawal symptoms after taking the medications. Read on to learn more about these severe side effects.

Oxycodone and OxyContin Withdrawal, Dependence, and Addiction

If you use oxycodone or OxyContin routinely, you may experience withdrawal symptoms after decreasing or stopping your drug usage.

Common symptoms of opioid withdrawals include:13

  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Medications like buprenorphine and methadone can help treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to transition off oxycodone and OxyContin more smoothly.

Withdrawals occur when your body has grown physically dependent on oxycodone and OxyContin. Some people continue to use these medications to avoid withdrawal, leading to a harmful cycle of opioid abuse.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies 11 symptoms of a substance use disorder, such as: 14

  • Continuing to use oxycodone or OxyContin even after the medication interferes with your social life
  • Experiencing withdrawal when you attempt to reduce or stop your intake of the drug
  • Failing to fulfill your family, job, or social responsibilities due to taking oxycodone or OxyContin
  • Feeling strong cravings, or desires, to take oxycodone or OxyContin
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug or ingesting the drug more frequently than your health care provider has prescribed

If you suspect you have developed a substance use disorder, you should seek immediate help from a qualified recovery specialist.

Contact one of our recovery specialists today to get started.

Oxycodone and OxyContin Overdose Risks, Signs, and Treatments

Oxycodone and OxyContin can affect the brain’s ability to regulate breathing. During an overdose, opioids slow or halt the user’s breathing, leading to death.15

An opioid overdose can happen to anyone. However, factors that can increase your risk of an overdose include: 

  • Being aged 65 or older
  • Having impaired kidney or liver function
  • Mixing opioids with alcohol or other medications
  • Taking opioids too frequently or at too high of a dosage

Symptoms of oxycodone or OxyContin overdose include:

  • The inability to wake or speak
  • Limp body
  • Pale skin and blue lips
  • Vomiting or gurgling sounds

An opioid overdose requires prompt treatment. If you believe you or someone else is experiencing an opioid overdose, administer naloxone if you have it on hand and call 911.

Next Steps for Oxycodone and OxyContin Substance Use Disorder

While oxycodone and OxyContin can help patients manage moderate to severe pain, these medications are also highly addictive. If you believe that you have a substance use disorder, reach out to our helpline today. You can speak to a recovery specialist about drug rehab and treatment options that will help you start your journey to a happier, healthier lifestyle free from opioid use.

Reach out to a recovery specialist today.

Resources 

  1.  Washington University in St. Louis. (2013, November). Among Prescription Painkillers, Drug Abusers Prefer Oxycodone.
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2022, March). Oxycodone.
  3. American Journal of Public Health. (2009, February). The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy.
  4. Federal Drug Administration. (2019, December). New Evidence Linking Greater Generic Competition and Lower Generic Drug Prices.
  5. Federal Drug Administration. (2019, October). Oxycodone Hydrochloride Capsules for Oral Use, CII.
  6. Federal Drug Administration. OxyContin HCI Label.
  7. Medicine. (2019, June). Efficacy and Safety of Sustained-release Oxycodone Compared with Immediate-release Morphine for Pain Titration in Cancer Patients.
  8. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. Controlled Substance Schedules.
  9. JAMA Psychiatry. (2015, March). Abuse-Deterrent Formulations and the Prescription Opioid Abuse Epidemic in the United States: Lessons Learned from OxyContin.
  10. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. Benefits and Risks of Pharmaceutical Opioids: Essential Treatment and Diverted Medication.
  11. Frontiers in Pediatrics. (2017, August). The Effects of Perinatal Oxycodone Exposure on Behavioral Outcome in a Rodent Model.
  12. MedlinePlus. Serotonin Syndrome.
  13. MedlinePlus. Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.
  14. DSM Library. Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders.
  15. MedlinePlus. Opioid Overdose.

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