Differences Between Oxycodone and Hydrocodone

The history of drug therapy for pain management is rife with well-meaning wrong turns. Somehow, in our attempts to control and manage pain, we have created a modern medical crisis of drug abuse and addiction.

In the early 1900s, doctors were faced with a problem. They needed a non-addictive and safer alternative to morphine, which had been used to treat severe pain for over a decade until it turned out to be more problematic than useful. They found one alternative.

However, the growing number of complaints forced the drug’s developer to cease marketing it and the new alternative’s medical uses died out almost completely. That alternative drug was diacetylmorphine, better known as heroin. Today, heroin is often tagged as one of the most addictive substances on the planet.

Since heroin was not a suitable alternative and there were very few alternatives to morphine for treating moderate or severe pain, pharmacists began a drug race to identify potential substances that would plug the gap. It was unsurprising that many of them turned to opium poppies for inspiration. This boom in opioid research resulted in a range of new drugs including two of the most commonly used pain medications available today: Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.

Differences between Oxycodone and Hydrocodone

Are Oxycodone and Hydrocodone the Same?

Oxycodone was the first to arrive on the scene in 1916. It was the product of research at the University of Frankfurt. Oxycodone was derived from a minor constituent of opium, called “thebaine.” Hydrocodone arrived some four years later as a derivative of naturally occurring codeine. While the two drugs are remarkably similar, they have a couple of differences.

  1. Chemical structure: Their structures only differ by a single extra oxygen atom in oxycodone and they both function by targeting opioid receptors in the brain to mitigate the pain response.
  2. Potency: The potency of opioids is often measured in morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs). 60 milligrams of oxycodone equals 90 MMEs while 60 milligrams of hydrocodone is equal to 600 MMEs. Thus, oxycodone is 1.5 times potent than hydrocodone.
  3. Combination: Under the brand name Vicodin, a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen tops lists of the most commonly prescribed medications in the US. On the other hand, Oxycodone is the primary drug at work in both Percocet and OxyContin – along with acetaminophen.

Oxycodone and Hydrocodone Abuse

Both drugs were rapidly adopted as alternatives to morphine and by the early 1940s, they represented a substantial proportion of US prescription painkiller use. While these drugs are extremely potent painkillers, when taken in high enough doses, they can induce euphoria. This intense rush floods the brain with dopamine. It is one of the primary drivers behind opioid addiction.

Unsurprisingly, hydrocodone and oxycodone have played a significant part in the opioid epidemic in the US. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that, of the 11.5 million people who had misused prescription painkillers that year, 6.9 million Americans had misused hydrocodone and a further 3.9 million had misused oxycodone.

The Bottom Line on Opioids

Oxycodone and Hydrocodone have good and bad sides. On the good part, medical practices like surgery and treating patients with chronic pain problems would be hard without these strong painkillers. On the other hand, their addictiveness has led to countless deaths over one century and opioid misuse continues to be a crisis.

If you are addicted to any of these opioids, it is not the end of your life. You only need the dedicated addiction professionals to get you on the right footing towards long-term recovery. At NJ Addiction Resources, we are passionate about helping individuals kick their addiction. Are you struggling with opioid addiction or the aftermath of misuse? Call our helpline today.

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