When dealing with opioid analgesics, it is not uncommon to wonder about the differences between the multiple types of prescriptions available today. When asking which hydrocodone vs. oxycodone, which is more dangerous, it is essential to understand that any prescribed narcotic can carry significant risks to the body and mind. There are many critical factors in determining who will develop dependence and addiction issues when they are given drugs for pain, even if a medical doctor prescribes those medications.

Why Are Hydrocodone and Oxycodone Prescribed in the First Place?

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are in a class of drugs known as narcotic analgesics. It is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe these medications on a short term basis, particularly following surgical procedures in which over the counter pain relievers are not strong enough by themselves to handle post-surgical pain. However, doctors, for the most part, take care not to give any patient more medicine than is needed and for the shortest period possible. It’s been recommended that a patient not receive more than a three day supply of narcotic analgesics. This is generally long enough for the worst of the pain following a procedure to resolve significantly, allowing for non-prescription medications to keep pain levels under control. There are always exceptions, of course, yet prescribing the smallest amount possible is an enormous step in reducing a patient’s risk of developing an addiction to these potentially dangerous drugs.

Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone

Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone Facts

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are in the same pharmacological class of drugs, and they are both strong prescriptions that must be used with care, precisely in the manner and dosing that a doctor prescribes them for. They each carry the same risks of developing physical dependence and addiction when used in higher doses and for a longer window of time than which they were given. They are both listed as Schedule II narcotic drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) due to their high risk of abuse, and both contain natural derivatives of opiates. There is no significant difference between the two drugs in regards to the effectiveness of treating pain; however, there appears to be a higher incidence of dependence and addiction to oxycodone, perhaps because it is more available around the world than hydrocodone, to which 99% of its use is limited to the United States.

What are the Side Effects of These Drugs?

Hydrocodone and oxycodone share similar side effects. With proper usage, side effects may include one or more of the following: drowsiness, dizziness, headache, stomach pain, dry mouth, fast heartbeat, itching, constipation, and loss of appetite. When someone takes too much of these medications, some of the signs of a possible overdose include sweating, cold and clammy skin, significantly decreased heart rate, shallow breaths or trouble breathing, even seizure. It may be difficult or impossible to wake someone who has fallen asleep after taking too much of a narcotic analgesic. In this situation, emergency medical attention is necessary to prevent death by overdose. Treatment with Naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist, may be required to reverse an overdose and save a life.

How Likely is Drug Abuse and Dependence with These Drugs?

The likelihood of developing addiction and dependence has several factors. The primary factor in determining who develops problems when taking these medications is whether or not a person is following prescribed dosing instructions. People who take more than prescribed, and take them more often than prescribed, are the people who usually find themselves battling with withdrawal symptoms when their supply is no longer available. Signs of withdrawal may include feelings of fatigue that is more intense than normal sleepiness, aggression, irritability, sweating, runny nose, excessive yawning, stomach cramps, eye dilation, and diarrhea. These are some of the signs of potential withdrawal when someone stops taking opioids all of a sudden after taking them for prolonged periods and at high doses. There is less of a risk of addiction when someone only uses these drugs as they’ve been prescribed, however, if taken for more than a couple of days, even as prescribed, there remains a possibility the patient may still feel some signs of mild withdrawal, which is normal and not indicative of drug abuse in any way.

The bottom line is that both hydrocodone and oxycodone carry a risk of physical dependence, and each has a high likelihood of being abused when overprescribed. Neither is safer than the other as a whole, and each must be used responsibly.