Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone: Which Is Better for Pain?

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Oxycodone vs. hydrocodone comparison

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Zohydro ER) are strong prescription opioid (narcotic) pain relievers similar to morphine, fentanyl, and methadone.
  • These narcotics are prescribed to manage acute or chronic, moderate to severe pain in people who need to take pain medication over a long period of time, and other pain treatments haven't been effective in managing their pain.
  • They are available in combination with other pain medication, for example, they each can be combined with acetaminophen (for example, Percocet, Roxicet, Oxycet, Vicodin, Lortab, Norco) to treat moderately severe pain, fever, and inflammation.
  • One difference between these two narcotics is that hydrocodone also can be combined with ibuprofen to manage pain, fever, and inflammation. It also can be combined with an expectorant and decongestant (for example, guaifenesin and pseudoephedrine) to treat nasal congestion, cough, and to the loosen mucus people tend to get with the common cold.
  • Most narcotics have the same common side effects, for example:
  • The main differences between oxycodone are the more serious effects and adverse reactions.
  • Both of these pain medications are opioids, and increase the effects of other medication that slows brain function, for example, alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and skeletal muscle relaxants. If you combine opioids with other medication that slows brain function, it may lead to dangerous impairment of breathing or death.
  • Narcotics also are highly addictive, even if you take the correct dosage your doctor prescribed for you.
  • If you are an addict or have an addiction problem and you don't take the medication as prescribed; if you crush or snort pills, or inject opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, or fentanyl; you at a higher risk of overdose, and possibly death.
  • Interactions are similar between these two opioids.

What are oxycodone and hydrocodone?

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are strong narcotic pain medications similar to morphine and other opioids (narcotics). Doctors prescribe them to manage chronic to severe pain in people who need long-term pain medicine, and haven't responded to other treatments for pain.

Researchers don't know exactly how oxycodone works in decreasing discomfort and increasing pain tolerance. But on the other hand, we do know how hydrocodone works. It works like other opioid narcotics by stimulating the receptors in the brain to increase a person's threshold to pain (the amount of stimulation it takes to feel pain) and reduce how painful it feel it feels (the perception of pain).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/6/2017

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