Oxycodone is a controlled substance in the U.S., available by prescription for the treatment of pain. This opioid pain medicine is also often referred to as a narcotic, and oxycodone is the generic name for it, and it’s also in brand name drugs like OxyContin.

As the country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, many people wonder about these drugs and have questions. A commonly prescribed and unfortunately also often abused opioid is oxycodone.

The following provides an overview of oxycodone and important things to know about this prescription medicine.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a controlled substance in the U.S., available by prescription for the treatment of pain. While oxycodone is the generic name for this opioid pain medicine, it’s also sold under brand name drugs like OxyContin. OxyContin is actually an extended-release form of oxycodone that can be used to treat chronic and around-the-clock pain.

Oxycodone is prescribed for pain ranging from moderate to severe. It should only be used exactly as prescribed. Oxycodone can lead to respiratory depression resulting in death, particularly if you take more than you’re told to, or you take larger amounts.

As with other opioids, there is the potential for oxycodone to be habit-forming and misusing this medicine even when you have a legitimate prescription can result in addiction, overdose or death.

How Does Oxycodone Work?

So, what does oxycodone do? It is a pain reliever. But how does it relieve pain? How does oxycodone work?

There is still a lot of research to be done into how oxycodone works, but it is known that the pain-relieving effects of this narcotic occur due to its impact on the central nervous system. When someone takes oxycodone, it binds to certain opioid receptors found in the central nervous system. This changes the perception of pain throughout the spinal cord and the central nervous system. Oxycodone and other drugs also trigger an emotional response that can help with pain relief, but this is unfortunately why this class of drugs is so addictive.

When you take oxycodone, it releases a flood of dopamine that makes you feel pleasant or even euphoric. As this happens, your brain starts to be rewired to feel like it should try to continue to seek the stimulus that led to the pleasant feeling, which is why you might start experiencing the psychological desire to continue using oxycodone.

Another key component of how oxycodone works relies on looking at the fact that it suppresses the respiratory system. This is a side effect of the effect of the drug on the brain stem. As your breathing slows down, it can become dangerous or deadly, so it’s important to be aware of this effect of oxycodone and other opioids.

Some of the side effects of oxycodone include nausea, vomiting and drowsiness. Some of the more serious adverse side effects related to oxycodone’s effect on the central nervous system can include lightheadedness, headache, weakness, changes in mood, breathing problems, confusion, pinpoint pupils and fainting.

How quickly oxycodone starts to work is another question you may have. The answer is that it depends on a few things including your individual body chemistry, what version you take, how often you take it and the strength of the dose. For example, if you take an extended-release version of oxycodone, it’s going to take longer for it to work.

The unfortunate reality is that even with time release version a lot of people abuse this drug by chewing it or crushing it up and snorting it or injecting it, which leads to a faster onset time.

Oxycodone Doses

There are different strengths and dosage options with oxycodone. The typical adult dose of the immediate release version of oxycodone begins with 5 mg increases as needed. The medication is given orally every four to six hours. With the extended-release version of oxycodone, the standard starting dose is 10 mg, given every 12 hours.

So, to sum up, what does oxycodone do? It is a pain reliever available in immediate release and extended release version that impacts pain by binding to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system.

If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village® can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
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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.