Hydrocodone vs. oxycodone—what are the similarities and differences and which is stronger? Learn more about hydrocodone vs. oxycodone including which could be more likely to lead to an overdose.
Which Is Stronger: Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone?
Hydrocodone and oxycodone are two drugs that are often confused and compared with one another. Both are prescription opioids with similar effects, but when comparing hydrocodone vs. oxycodone, which is stronger, and which has the potential for more serious side effects including addiction and overdose?
What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid pain medication. Hydrocodone is available as a single-ingredient drug, but more commonly it’s used in combination with acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is in Vicodin as well as Norco—both of which include the opioid and acetaminophen combination.
Opioid medications like hydrocodone are also called narcotics.
These drugs work by affecting opioid receptors in the central nervous system, including the brain. Hydrocodone can help relieve pain by changing the transmission of pain signals, and altering the emotional response someone has to pain.
All of the U.S. brand name drugs that contain hydrocodone include:
- Ceta Plus
- Dolorex Forte
- Vicodin HP
According to the DEA, hydrocodone has been the second-most encountered narcotic pharmaceutical drug submitted as evidence in drug cases since 2009. Hydrocodone is used for the treatment of pain ranging from moderate to moderately-severe, and it’s also sometimes used as a cough suppressant.
It’s also the most frequently prescribed opioid in the U.S. There were 93.7 million hydrocodone prescriptions dispensed in 206 and 83.6 million in 2017. The most frequently prescribed hydrocodone combination drugs are Vicodin and Lortab.
Hydrocodone is a drug of abuse, as is the case with other prescription opioids. Hydrocodone pills are frequently abused orally, but the pills can be crushed and abused in other ways as well, such as by snorting them or liquefying and injecting them.
Because hydrocodone products typically contain acetaminophen, there are even more risks factors associated with abuse of this drug. People may experience liver toxicity or acute liver failure if they abuse hydrocodone in large amounts, whether at one time or over time.
Hydrocodone and most other prescription opioids are controlled substances in the United States. Hydrocodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it is believed to have a high potential for physical and psychological dependence.
What Are the Side Effects of Hydrocodone?
The most common side effects of hydrocodone are dizziness and lightheadedness. Other potential hydrocodone side effects are:
- Changes in mood
- Weakness or feelings of sluggishness
The dosage of hydrocodone someone is given can depend on many factors including the condition it’s treating, a person’s tolerance to opioids, and their physical health.
Common dosages of hydrocodone include:
- 5 mg of hydrocodone with 325 mg acetaminophen
- 5 mg of hydrocodone with 325 mg acetaminophen
- 5 mg of hydrocodone with 325 mg of acetaminophen
- 10 mg of hydrocodone with 325 mg of acetaminophen
For moderate to severe pain, a person shouldn’t take more than 60 mg of hydrocodone in a 24 hour period.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a prescription opioid or narcotic pain reliever, derived from opium. The most popular brand-name drug that contains oxycodone is called OxyContin. In 2013, the original formulation of OxyContin was removed from the marketplace because of its high abuse potential. The OxyContin that replaced it featured increased labeling and also abuse-deterrent properties.
OxyContin is an extended-release version of oxycodone, and it’s one of the most frequently abused opioids. When it’s taken as intended, OxyContin would only be taken every 12 hours for ongoing pain relief.
However, people who abuse opioids will break, crush, chew, dissolve or snort OxyContin to get the full effects of the drug all at once. Even though OxyContin is designed with abuse-deterrent features, there is still an abuse risk.
Oxycodone is intended to relieve chronic pain or cancer-related pain. It’s usually for severe pain relief.
Along with OxyContin, other brand names of oxycodone include:
What Are the Side Effects of Oxycodone?
Oxycodone, like hydrocodone, is a central nervous system depressant. Someone who uses oxycodone may show side effects including:
Comparing Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone
When you look at hydrocodone vs. oxycodone, you’ll see there are many similarities. Both are Schedule II controlled substance with a high abuse and dependence potential. Both are central nervous system depressants, and both have the potential to cause euphoria when high doses are used. Both are also prescription pain relievers.
Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are often identified as the drugs of choice by people who abuse opioids. In one study, cited on the Pharmacy Times, oxycodone was preferred by nearly 45% of respondents as their drug of choice, followed by hydrocodone which was preferred by 29.4%.
So, when looking at hydrocodone vs. oxycodone, which is stronger?
When comparing hydrocodone vs. oxycodone, oxycodone may be slightly stronger although it’s very similar.
Oxycodone does tend to have more of an abuse potential, however. That’s because the high people experience with oxycodone is more intense, especially when they use a time-release drug like OxyContin in a way other than how it’s meant to be used.
The dosages of hydrocodone and oxycodone are similar, as are the side effects. Oxycodone is usually more expensive than hydrocodone, both in pharmacies and on-the-streets.
Both hydrocodone and oxycodone have not only an addiction potential but can and do lead to fatal overdoses. Signs of an overdose related to either hydrocodone or oxycodone can include:
- Extreme drowsiness or nodding off
- Pinpoint pupils
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Clammy skin
- Skin with a bluish tint
Summing Up—Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone
With so many similarities, the only real significant difference in hydrocodone vs. oxycodone is the addiction potential. Both drugs are addictive, but oxycodone is likely more addictive than hydrocodone.
Simone, Aimee. “Opioid Abusers Prefer Hydrocodone, Oxycodone for Different Reasons.” Pharmacy Times.” December 19, 2013. Accessed May 3, 2019.
Mayo Clinic. “Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen (Oral Route).” April 1, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Hydrocodone.” October 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019.
Burgess, Lana. “What to Know About Oxycodone.” Medical News Today. February 4, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019.