What is oxycodone is a question people frequently ask, because this prescription drug is something they hear a lot about as part of the opioid epidemic.

“What is oxycodone?” is a question people frequently ask because this prescription drug is something they hear a lot about due to its part in the opioid epidemic. They may wonder not only what oxycodone is, but if oxycodone is an opiate.

First, what are opiates?

  • Opiates are drugs that are derived from the poppy plant. Opiates have been used recreationally and as medicine for thousands of years.
  • Some legal opiates that are controlled substances available by prescription include codeine and morphine, but illegal drugs like heroin are also opiates.
  • The aspect that all opiates have in common is the slowing of the central nervous system that occurs when someone takes them.
  • There are three primary ways to group opiates. The first is opiates that are naturally derived like morphine or codeine. The second is semi-synthetic opioids, derived partially from the opium poppy and partially synthesized in a laboratory, which include oxycodone as well as hydrocodone. The third group of opioids are synthetic, fully created in a laboratory, and include things like fentanyl and methadone.

Oxycodone is an opiate, at least a semi-synthetic one. The term opiate is often used interchangeably with opioid, but opioids are synthetic. All opioids, regardless of how they’re classified, are very potent and potentially dangerous.

A significant percentage of the population admits to abusing opioids or opiates, even when they never intended to. Opiates and opioids are intended for the treatment of serious pain, and when they’re misprescribed or abused, there is a risk of addiction, physical dependence, and overdose.

Opiates work by binding to receptors that are found throughout the body and the central nervous system. Opiates pass the blood-brain barrier quickly. Many people experience a profound sense of euphoria when they take these drugs, even if they don’t mean to get high from them. As a result, their brain’s reward center is stimulated. This can trigger an addiction as the reward center wants to keep replicating the euphoric high of opiates.

The brain’s reward center eventually begins to view the euphoric high as the new normal, and commits the brain’s resources to pursuing this new normal, thus creating addictive behaviors. Even though oxycodone has the potential for therapeutic benefits and it can be prescribed to certain patients, it also has the risk of abuse that comes along with it.

Understanding Oxycodone

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from the Persian poppy. It’s long been in use for the treatment of pain, and it comes as both a single-ingredient prescription medication, as well as in combination medications.

The intended use of oxycodone is as a treatment for severe pain following surgery or injury. Some of the potential side effects of oxycodone can include nausea, vomiting, headaches, mood changes, dizziness, and even severe adverse effects like strokes or death.

As with other opioids, oxycodone also suppresses the respiratory system which is one of the ways it can cause death in users.

One of the most well-known forms of oxycodone is OxyContin. OxyContin also happens to be one of the most abused opioids in the United States. OxyContin’s active ingredient is oxycodone, but it’s manufactured in a way so that it’s a controlled-release medicine. The objective with OxyContin is that it provides steady, long-lasting pain relief for around 12 hours.

Unfortunately, people will crush up OxyContin and abuse it by snorting it or injecting it. When this happens, they’re getting the whole dose of oxycodone at once and putting themselves at a significant risk of overdosing and dying.

Addiction and Dependence

So what is oxycodone? It’s an opiate, and its use increases the risk of both addiction and dependence developing.

With opiates, particularly potent ones like oxycodone, if someone takes them, even as prescribed, their brain may start to see them as something to seek. This risk is even higher when people abuse the drug. Abuse of oxycodone can be as simple as taking doses too close together or taking extra pills beyond what you’re prescribed.

Developing dependence happens naturally with opiates like oxycodone when they are taken regularly for an extended time period. With dependence, your body becomes used to the presence of oxycodone, and if you suddenly stop using it, or sharply decrease your usage, your body goes into withdrawal. This is why doctors will usually set up a weaning schedule for patients who have used opioids for more than two weeks.

Oxycodone is a potent opiate that can be prescribed on its own or with other ingredients for the treatment of serious pain.

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 – 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 – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more
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.