Two of the most prominent painkiller opiates at the center of the opioid epidemic are OxyContin and oxycodone, both of which are potent, dangerous and potentially deadly

The use of opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, has become so pervasive that it’s called an epidemic. Two of the most prominent painkiller opiates at the center of the opioid epidemic are oxycodone and OxyContin, both of which are potent, dangerous and deadly.

Despite the risks of OxyContin and oxycodone, they are still frequently prescribed to treat pain in various situations, including acute and chronic pain. Because oxycodone is a short-acting drug, it is usually prescribed for acute pain, like sprains, broken bones and accident-related trauma. OxyConti is a time-released medication, so it’s more commonly prescribed for chronic pain resulting from cancer, arthritis, nerve pain and fibromyalgia.

Article at a Glance

  • OxyContin is a brand name, time-released version of oxycodone.
  • The main difference between oxycodone and OxyContin is how long they last once absorbed into the body. Oxycodone can last 4–6 hours, while OxyContin can last up to 12 hours.
  • In addition to being the active ingredient in OxyContin, oxycodone is found in drugs like Percocet and Percodan.
  • OxyContin has been at the center of the opioid crisis due to its potency and how easy it is to misuse. Oxycodone, however, is highly addictive in its own right.

Oxycodone vs OxyContin: How Are They Different?

The main difference between oxycodone and OxyContin is how they are absorbed in the body and how long they last. OxyContin is a controlled-release tablet, meaning the medication is released slowly in the body over the course of 12 hours, so it only needs to be taken twice daily. Oxycodone is an immediate-release formulation. The total amount of the drug is available quickly after ingestion and is taken four to six times daily to prevent pain consistently.

The most common brand names of oxycodone are Percocet and Percodan. OxyContin is a brand name and is not available in generic form. Since its introduction over two decades ago, OxyContin was marketed with a warningagainst crushing the tablets for consumption, since doing so causes a rapid release of the drug after ingestion. This warning unintentionally alerted people how to misuse this medication, making this drug a central focus in the opioid epidemic.

OxyContin became available as a prescription in 1995, and the drug was marketed across the country to different types of physicians for a broad range of pain management issues. In the years that followed, a flood of OxyContin prescriptions in many different communities made this drug easy to access and abuse.

What Is Oxycontin?

OxyContin is the brand name for a time-released version of oxycodone, a narcotic analgesic used to treat pain. It can treat pain related to injuries that require long-term pain management, cancer pain and even arthritis.

Doses of OxyContin range from 10 mg to 80 mg of oxycodone in the time-released formulation, which provides pain relief for up to 12 hours. OxyContin initially stood out in the opioid market because of its ability to provide constant pain relief, unlike other shorter-lasting opioids.

While there is legitimate value in using OxyContin to treat various forms of pain, it also has a high potential for abuse. People who misuse OxyContin can crush these tablets before snorting or diluting and injecting it for a quicker, more powerful effect than they’d experience taking this drug orally.

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that’s derived from the Persian poppy, and it can relieve moderate to severe pain.

Oxycodone is available as a single-ingredient medicine, but it’s also used in various combination medicines; for example, it is often paired with acetaminophen for more effective pain-fighting abilities. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in not only OxyContin but also in drugs like Percocet and Percodan, which are brand names of combination medicines.

Although these two drugs have the same main active ingredient, there are subtle differences between oxycodone and OxyContin that are worth noting, particularly with regards to how they are released in the body and the potential for abuse.

What’s the Difference Between OxyContin vs Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a key active ingredient in the prescription brand name drug OxyContin, but what about the difference between OxyContin and oxycodone?

The primary difference is the fact that OxyContin is time-released and oxycodone isn’t. As a result, OxyContin can provide around-the-clock pain relief. OxyContin doesn’t have to be taken as often as oxycodone and the effects will last longer. Compared to OxyContin’s ability to treat pain for up to 12 hours, oxycodone usually lasts around four to six hours.

The time-release feature of OxyContin is a result of being prepared differently than oxycodone. OxyContin is strong, but it releases slowly into the bloodstream when taken as instructed.

Addiction and Dependence

Both OxyContin and oxycodone come with risks. When people take these drugs, as with any opioid, the brain is impacted in a way that facilitates addiction. Addiction is a disorder that can occur with opioid use, since opioids release pleasurable chemicals into the brain. Eventually, the brain requires more of the drug to achieve the same effects.

In theory, OxyContin is less likely to cause addiction than oxycodone because it’s time-released, but this hasn’t necessarily proven to be the case since people crush the pills and administer them in other ways to get past the medication’s time-released mechanism.

Some experts say OxyContin is the most widely misused prescription opioid in the United States because it has a strong dosage and is readily available. Many people say they experience a high similar to heroin when they crush OxyContin and snort it or inject it.

To sum up, the primary difference between OxyContin and oxycodone is the time-release feature of OxyContin, which can make it a longer-lasting pain medicine but can also make it more dangerous if it’s misused.

If you or a loved one struggles with OxyContin or oxycodone addiction, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to speak to a representative about how addiction treatment could help you.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Yuliya Sagan
Yulia is a cell and molecular biologist with expertise using embryonic stem cell models, 3D human tissue models, and animal models to investigate different human disease phenotypes including impaired wound healing, cardiovascular disease, and cancer metastasis. Read more

U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Oxycontin Abuse and Diversion and Effort[…] Address the Problem.” December 3, 2019. Accessed February 11, 2022.

Cleveland Clinic. “Acute vs. Chronic Pain.” December 8, 2020. Accessed February 11, 2022.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Highlights of Prescribing Information: Oxycontin.” September 2018. Accessed February 11, 2022.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “Oxycodone.” Accessed February 11, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs and the Brain.” Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, July 27, 2021. Accessed February 11, 2022.

Van Zee, A. “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin[…]ublic Health Tragedy.” American Journal of Public Health, February 2009. Accessed February 11, 2022. “Oxycodone vs. OxyContin – What’s the difference?” September 24, 2021. Accessed February 11, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.