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Is Oxycodone an Opioid?

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Yes, oxycodone is an opioid. It is a synthetic opioid prescribed for moderate to severe pain. Opioids bind to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing pain perception and producing a feeling of euphoria or well-being. However, oxycodone can be addictive and may cause various side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression. Using this medication only as a healthcare professional prescribes and taking appropriate precautions to avoid misuse, abuse, and addiction is essential.

Oxycodone is addictive because it activates the brain’s reward system, producing euphoria and pleasure. Repeated use makes the brain accustomed to the drug’s effects and may require larger doses to achieve the same high. Over time, this can lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Misuse of prescription opioids like oxycodone can lead to addiction, with an estimated 4-6% of people who misuse prescription opioids transitioning to heroin.  In 2019, an estimated 3.2 million people aged 12 or older reported misusing opioids, including oxycodone, in the past year in the United States.

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Is Oxycodone Classified as an Opioid?

Yes, Oxycodone is classified as an opioid. It is a semi-synthetic opioid used for moderate to severe pain. There are three types of opioids such as synthetic, semi-synthetic, and natural opioids. The difference between each opioid is their chemical composition and origin.

Common Types of Opioids: 

  • Natural Opioids – These opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant such as morphine and codeine. They are natural because they are directly extracted from a plant source, and their chemical structure is not significantly altered.
  • Semi-Synthetic Opioids – Semi-synthetic opioids are derived from natural opioids but are chemically modified to enhance their potency or alter their effects. For example, oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that is derived from the natural opioid thebaine, which is found in the opium poppy plant.

Synthetic Opioids – These opioids are entirely manufactured and do not occur naturally. Synthetic opioids are designed to mimic the effects of natural opioids but can be more potent and have different effects than their natural counterparts. Fentanyl is an example of a synthetic opioid.

How Does Oxycodone React in the Body as an Opioid?

Oxycodone is an opioid analgesic that works by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord called mu-opioid receptors. When it binds to these receptors, it reduces the perception of pain and produces a feeling of euphoria or well-being.

Additionally, oxycodone can produce a range of other effects in the body, including:

  • Drowsiness – Oxycodone can cause sedation and drowsiness, so avoiding activities requiring alertness or coordination, such as driving or operating machinery, is important.
  • Respiratory Depression – One of the most significant risks of opioids like oxycodone is respiratory depression, which can slow down or stop breathing. This risk is increased when oxycodone is used in higher doses or combined with other respiratory depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.
  • Nausea – Oxycodone can cause nausea and vomiting, especially when it is first started or when the dose is increased.
  • Constipation – Opioids like oxycodone can cause constipation, so it is essential to drink plenty of fluids and eat a high-fiber diet while taking this medication.
  • Addiction – Opioids like oxycodone can be highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence with long-term use. It is essential to take this medication only as a healthcare professional prescribes and seek help if addiction or dependence develops.

Do All Opioids Function the Same for Pain Management?

All opioids bind to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing pain perception and producing a feeling of euphoria or well-being. However, different opioids have different strengths, durations of action, and side effect profiles, so they may not function similarly for pain management.

For example, some opioids, such as morphine and fentanyl, are more potent than others and may be more effective at managing severe pain. However, they may also carry a higher risk of side effects, such as respiratory depression.

Other opioids, such as codeine and hydrocodone, are less potent and may be more appropriate for managing milder pain. However, they may also have a higher risk of causing side effects such as constipation.

In addition, some opioids may have different pharmacokinetic properties, affecting how they are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated from the body. For example, some opioids may have a longer half-life, which means they stay in the body longer and may have a more prolonged effect.

Overall, the choice of opioid for pain management will depend on the severity and duration of pain, individual patient factors such as age and medical history, and the potential risks and benefits of each medication.

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When Is Oxycodone Used in Pain Relief Over Other Opioids?

Oxycodone is a potent opioid analgesic that is used to manage moderate to severe pain when other pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or weaker opioids like codeine, are not effective or not tolerated.

Some specific situations where oxycodone may be preferred over other opioids include:

  • Cancer Pain – Oxycodone is often used to manage cancer-related pain, which can be severe and difficult to manage with other medications.
  • Chronic Pain – Oxycodone may be used to manage chronic pain, such as pain related to osteoarthritis, when other pain medications are ineffective.
  • Postoperative Pain – Oxycodone may be used to manage postoperative pain, especially when pain is severe and other pain medications are not effective.
  • Acute Pain – Oxycodone may be used to manage acute pain, such as pain related to injuries or surgeries, when other pain medications are ineffective or not tolerated.

Other pain management strategies, such as physical therapy, relaxation techniques, or non-opioid medications, may also be considered in conjunction with or as an alternative to opioids like Oxycodone.

What Is the Difference Between Oxycodone & Non-Opioid Pain Medications

Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication, while non-opioid pain medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

The main difference between oxycodone and non-opioid pain medications is in how they work to relieve pain. Oxycodone binds to specific brain and spinal cord receptors to reduce pain perception and produce a feeling of euphoria or well-being. In contrast, non-opioid pain medications block or reduce inflammation in the body, which can relieve pain and reduce fever.

Another key difference is in the potential for addiction and dependence. Opioids like oxycodone can be highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence with long-term use. In contrast, non-opioid pain medications generally lower the risk of addiction and dependence.

Regarding side effects, opioids like oxycodone can cause various adverse effects, including drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening in high doses or combined with other respiratory depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. Non-opioid pain medications like NSAIDs can also cause side effects, such as stomach upset, gastrointestinal bleeding, and kidney damage, mainly when used in high doses or for long periods.

The choice of pain medication will depend on the severity and duration of pain, individual patient factors such as age and medical history, and each medication’s potential risks and benefits. Working closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate pain management strategy for each patient is important.

Risks of Using Oxycodone & Other Opioids for Pain Management

While opioids like oxycodone can effectively manage pain, they also carry significant risks and potential side effects.

Some of the risks associated with using oxycodone and other opioids for pain management include:

  • Addiction – Opioids can be highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence with long-term use. This can result in withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped or the dose is reduced.
  • Overdose – Opioids can cause respiratory depression, life-threatening in high doses or combined with other respiratory depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. Overdose can result in coma, brain damage, or death.
  • Side Effects – Opioids can cause various side effects, including drowsiness, constipation, nausea, vomiting, itching, dry mouth, and sweating.
  • Drug Interactions – Opioids can interact with other medications, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol, increasing the risk of respiratory depression and overdose.
  • Tolerance – Opioids can lead to tolerance, which means that higher doses of the medication are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief.
  • Misuse – Opioids are sometimes misused or diverted for non-medical purposes, leading to addiction, overdose, and other adverse health consequences.

How Is Oxycodone Taken for Pain Relief

Oxycodone is typically taken orally as a tablet, capsule, or solution. It can also be administered as an injection for severe pain in a hospital setting.

The specific dosage and frequency of oxycodone will depend on the severity and duration of pain and individual patient factors such as age and medical history. It is important to follow the dosing instructions a healthcare professional provides and stay within the recommended dosage or frequency of use.

Oxycodone can be taken with or without food, but it should be taken with a full glass of water to help it dissolve and absorb properly. It is important not to crush, chew, or break oxycodone tablets or capsules, as this can release too much of the medication at once and increase the risk of overdose or side effects.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of oxycodone detox that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While prioritizing a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine the most appropriate level of care for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/terms.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590096/
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/oxycodone-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20074193
  6. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pmtf-final-report-2019-05-23.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3324204/’
  8. https://www.asahq.org/madeforthismoment/pain-management/non-opioid-treatment/
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/chronic-pain-medication-decisions/art-20360371
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/manage-your-pain/index.html#:~:text=Risks%20include%20misuse%2C%20abuse%2C%20opioid,your%20breathing%20and%20cause%20death.
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482226/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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