What’s the Difference Between Oxycodone and OxyContin?

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Oxycodone and OxyContin (oxycodone hydrochloride) are controlled substances used as opioid prescription drugs. They are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. These drugs are closely linked because oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin.

Both drugs are in the class of drugs called opioids. Opioids are made from the opium poppy.

While they have much in common, these drugs have unique formulations. OxyContin contains oxycodone in a controlled-released medication. Oxycodone provides a quick release.

This article describes the differences, effectiveness, side effects, and warnings for oxycodone and OxyContin.

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OxyContin vs. Oxycodone Differences

The difference between oxycodone and OxyContin is the rate of release into the body—how quickly (onset) and how long (duration) the drug is released in the body. OxyContin is a controlled-release formulation of oxycodone.

A controlled-release drug is released into your body in specid amounts over a certain period. The effect allows you to have a consistent dose of pain relief throughout the day.

OxyContin provides continuous, around-the-clock pain relief when treatment is needed for an extended period. It is usually taken for chronic or constant pain. It is not intended for acute pain following surgery or on an as-needed basis.

OxyContin is taken every 12 hours, with an onset of about one hour. It has the following advantages:

  • Reduced gastrointestinal effects
  • Reduced adverse effects due to peak blood levels
  • Longer effectiveness in your blood
  • Convenience of taking fewer doses
  • Improved compliance due to fewer doses
  • Less change in blood levels in a day

Oxycodone is delivered in an immediate-release formula with an onset of about 10 to 30 minutes. This type of formulation is made to dissolve without delaying or prolonging the absorption of the drug. Oxycodone is approved for both acute and chronic pain relief. It is usually taken to relieve acute pain but can also be used to manage chronic pain, as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

The immediate-release formulation of oxycodone is usually taken every four to six hours. It has the following advantages:

  • Allows for the rapid onset of the drug for quick pain relief
  • Suitable for use on an as-needed basis for sudden, short-term, or breakthrough pain
  • Useful in emergencies

OxyContin and oxycodone expose users to the risks of opioid addiction and abuse, even at recommended doses. This is because your body can become dependent on the drug or tolerant to higher doses of it. However, because OxyContin delivers the drug over an extended period, there is a greater risk of overdose and death due to the larger amount of oxycodone present after the tablet is taken.

Oxycodone can be used in adults and children. While OxyContin can be used for taken by both adults and children, it is limited to children age 11 or older who are already receiving and tolerate a minimum daily opioid dose of at least 20 milligrams (mg) of oxycodone orally or its equivalent. This restriction proves how the child tolerates and responds to opioids and helps determine the appropriate dose.

When prescribed to children, it is intended to manage pain that is severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment for which alternative treatment options are inadequate.

It is critical to initiate the dosing regimen for each person individually, taking into account the person's prior opioid and non-opioid analgesic treatment. Attention should be given to:

  • The general condition and medical status of the person
  • The person's opioid exposure and opioid tolerance (if any)
  • The daily dose, potency, and kind of the analgesic(s) the person has been taking
  • The reliability of the conversion estimate used to calculate the dose of oxycodone
  • Special safety issues associated with conversion to OxyContin doses at or exceeding 160 mg every 12 hours
  • The balance between pain control and adverse experiences


OxyContin and oxycodone are both analgesics—drugs primarily used to relieve pain. They act on your central nervous system, where they bind to opioid receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and other organs in the body.

Opioids release large amounts of dopamine and block the transmission of pain signals from the nerves that branch off your spinal cord and extend to all body parts.

OxyContin and oxycodone can improve the quality of life of people with many types of pain. They treat moderate to severe pain not well managed with other pain medications.

OxyContin and oxycodone can also be effective in relieving the following types of pain:

  • Chronic moderate to severe pain that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis, back pain, nerve pain, and some other health conditions
  • Acute moderate to severe pain that occurs in a traumatic injury like a broken bone or severe burn, with a major surgery like a knee replacement, or some types of cancer

Side Effects

The side effects of OxyContin and oxycodone are similar because they have the same active ingredient. Common side effects of these drugs may include the following:

Serious adverse reactions to these drugs can be severe and life-threatening. They include the following:

Interactions and Warnings

OxyContin and oxycodone carry black box warnings, the most serious type of safety-related warning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives a medication. These medications can cause life-threatening effects that can lead to hospitalization or death.

OxyContin and oxycodone have a significant potential for interactions with certain other drugs. These drugs and their interactions include the following:

  • Alcohol: Taking an OxyContin or oxycodone tablet with even a modest amount of alcohol increases the risk of a potentially life-threatening side effect known as respiratory depression (a breathing disorder characterized by slow and ineffective breathing). The effect can occur in either prescribed or misused amounts of the drug.
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants: Use of central nervous system depressants with any form of oxycodone may cause low blood pressure, sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death. Commonly called sedatives or tranquilizers, CNS depressants include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and certain sleep medications.
  • Serotonergic drugs: Use of serotonergic drugs may result in serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that causes too much serotonin in your body. Antidepressants, pain medications, cough suppressants, and migraine medicine in the triptan family are among the most common serotonergic drugs.
  • Other opioids: Taking one of these drugs with a form of oxycodone may reduce the analgesic effect of oxycodone or cause withdrawal symptoms. Examples of these drugs include Buprenex (buprenorphine), Stadol (butorphanol), Nubain (nalbuphine), and Talwin NX (pentazocine).

Having one of the following conditions is a contraindication for use of (a reason not to use) OxyContin and oxycodone:

  • Respiratory depression and other forms of chronic pulmonary disease
  • Acute or severe bronchial asthma in an unmonitored setting or without resuscitative equipment
  • Known or suspected gastrointestinal obstruction, including paralytic ileus (a condition in which the natural motion of the intestines that moves material along is slowed down or stopped)
  • Hypersensitivity (extreme allergy) to oxycodone

Having one of the following conditions may affect the efficacy and increase the risk of adverse reactions linked with using OxyContin and oxycodone:

OxyContin tablets must be swallowed whole. Crushing, chewing, or dissolving an OxyContin tablet can damage the protective coating. This can cause the rapid release and absorption of a potentially fatal drug dose.

OxyContin and Oxycodone Abuse

OxyContin and oxycodone are Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs in this category have a high potential for abuse and can potentially lead to psychological or physical dependence.

OxyContin and oxycodone change how you feel pain. Feelings of euphoria and relaxation are the most common effects of these drugs on the brain. The effect is similar to that linked to heroin use. While this can benefit pain relief, it also increases the potential to abuse these drugs.

Whether you use these drugs for a legitimate prescribed reason or recreational purposes, you can become physically dependent on them. It is also possible to develop a substance use disorder (an addiction). Therefore, it's important to take the medication exactly as prescribed and to be aware of the signs to recognize an opioid addiction.

The amount of oxycodone you need to achieve the same effect may increase over time due to tolerance. This can result in your need to use the drug more often in larger doses to get the same results. It can also result in withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly discontinue the drug.

Which Is Better?

The choice between these two drugs depends on your condition and the reason for your treatment such as the type of pain you're experiencing. Factors like your age, history with opioids, and other medications may also affect the specific drug your healthcare provider uses.

Since the active ingredient of OxyContin and oxycodone is the same, the power of these drugs is the same. The amount of drug in an Oxycontin tablet is higher than the amount of a drug in an oxycodone tablet because it provides a longer effect.

Research shows no difference between immediate-release oxycodone taken every four to six hours or controlled-release OxyContin taken every 12 hours for cancer-related pain in adults.

OxyContin Lawsuits

Legal action against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and its owners, the Sackler Family, involved 23 states and attorneys representing 2,000 local governments. Purdue Pharma and its owners were sued and held responsible for their continued production and aggressive marketing of OxyContin as being less addictive than they knew it or ought to have known it to be.

The lawsuit arose from the costs to state, municipal, and county governments due to personal injuries and wrongful deaths. In March 2022, the company paid $6 billion to help local governments handle widespread opioid addiction. Purdue Pharma will become Knoa Pharma, owned by the National Opioid Abatement Trust after its bankruptcy plan is finalized. The new company will be allowed to continue making and selling OxyContin.


Oxycodone and OxyContin are opioid pain relievers used to treat moderate to severe pain.

Oxycodone is an immediate-release tablet that provides relief within minutes and lasts a few hours. OxyContin is produced in a controlled-release tablet that acts within an hour and maintains a constant drug level for up to 12 hours.

Both drugs must be used with care and medical advice. Oxycodone and OxyContin can both lead to serious health problems and even death.

While these drugs can improve pain, they carry a risk for dependency and tolerance. If you are experiencing pain and might be prescribed oxycodone or OxyContin, talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits, side effects, risks, and proper use of the medication before taking it to make sure it's right for you.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.