Two types of opiates, hydrocodone and oxycodone bind to receptors in the brain, which reduce pain sensations. Patients with pain problems can take either hydrocodone or oxycodone, though patients can also use hydrocodone as a cough suppressant. While both hydrocodone and oxycodone can help patients with certain medical conditions, they do carry a potential for abuse.
Restrictions exist for both hydrocodone and oxycodone to prevent abuse. Kristi Monson, PharmD, and Arthur Schoenstadt, MD, authors of the eMedTV article "Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone," explain that hydrocodone and oxycodone are both restricted controlled substances. Hydrocodone is considered a Schedule II and oxycodone is considered a Schedule III. This difference in rating means that people abuse oxycodone more often than hydrocodone. The rating that these drugs receive impacts how patients can get their prescriptions filled. Patients can get six refills of hydrocodone over five months. But with oxycodone, patients cannot get a refill. If a patient needs more oxycodone, his doctor has to write another prescription. This practice attempts to prevent abuse of the drug.
MedlinePlus points out that oxycodone is available alone or combined with another medication, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin. Options of dosages include a short-acting version and long-acting version, which patients only need to use once a day. Patients can take oxycodone as a tablet, liquid, capsule or concentration solution. Hydrocodone, however, is not available by itself, but rather combined with acetaminophen. Like oxycodone, hydrocodone has a short-acting and long-acting version. Patients can take hydrocodone as a syrup, capsule, tablet or solution.
Patients taking either hydrocodone or oxycodone cannot stop taking the medications suddenly, as that can result in withdrawal symptoms. MedlinePlus explains that oxycodone withdrawal can cause muscular problems, such as muscle or joint aches or pains, weakness and cramps. A fast heartbeat, fast breathing, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, irritability, yawning and restless can occur. Other oxycodone withdrawal symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, sweating, chills, anxiety, depression, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a loss of appetite. In the eMedTV article "Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms," Monson and Schoenstadt note that withdrawal from hydrocodone include nausea, runny nose, diarrhea, shakiness, shivering and sweating. Other withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, goosebumps, anxiety, pain and cravings for hydrocodone.
Just as stopping the drug too quickly can lead to problems, so can taking too much. Both drugs can cause a loss of consciousness, changes in pupil size, clammy or blue skin, cessation of breathing and excessive sleepiness. MedlinePlus notes that hydrocodone withdrawal can cause seizures and death. Withdrawal from oxycodone can cause a coma, weak muscles, dizziness, fainting and a stopped heartbeat.
Patients taking hydrocodone or oxycodone must take certain precautions when using the drugs. For example, Monson and Schoenstadt explain that users should avoid alcohol, as it can worsen the side effects. Patients should not break the extended release pills, as that can cause a dangerous influx of the drug. MedlinePlus adds that people without an opiate tolerance who take 60 mg tablets of oxycodone may suffer from serious problems that can result in death.