Oxycodone and oxycodone/APAP are each prescription-only narcotic painkillers, listed as schedule II controlled substances in the United States. Although they contain a common active ingredient and a similar name, medications labeled as "oxycodone/APAP" as well as simply "oxycodone" have a host of differences. These key differences are essential to understand, since they represent the line of demarcation between medications of tremendously variant indications, potency and general safety.
Oxycodone is a powerful narcotic member of the opioid family of drugs, chemically related to other opioids such as codeine, morphine and hydrocodone. APAP is the pharmaceutical acronym for a chemical called N-acetyl-para-aminophenol--otherwise known as acetaminophen, a common non-narcotic pain reliever and fever reducer available over-the-counter. If a prescription medication label reads "oxycodone/APAP," it means that the medicine contains a combination of the narcotic painkiller and the pain reliever acetaminophen. If it simply reads "oxycodone," then the medicine is a formulation of the narcotic alone.
Different Trade Names
Oxycodone/APAP medications come under a variety of trade names, reports MayoClinic.com. When a pharmacists substitutes a generic medication for one of these, the medicine label will read "oxycodone/APAP," accompanied by a milligram dose for each, with the oxycodone dose listed first. For example, "5/500" means that a tablet containing 5 mg of oxycodone also contains 500 mg of acetaminophen. Medications that contain oxycodone alone bear trade names such as Roxicodone and OxyContin, and the generic forms will list only the narcotic ingredient, oxycodone HCl.
Prescription medications combining oxycodone and APAP generally contain 325 to 725 mg of acetaminophen in combination with amounts of oxycodone ranging from 2.5 to 10 mg, according to Daily Med. Oxycodone/APAP medicines are often prescribed for short-term management of mild to moderate pain, after minor orthodontic procedures and surgeries. Formulations of oxycodone by itself range much more widely in potency, from immediate-release tablets containing only 5 mg to controlled-release pills designed to release 20, 40 and even 80 mg of oxycodone slowly into the system. These high-potency forms of oxycodone are generally prescribed to manage chronic pain due to back ailments, cancer and severe injuries which demand powerful, round-the-clock pain relief.
Identifying the Difference
Although brand-name formulations of both oxycodone and oxycodone/APAP will bear their trade name imprinted on the pill, many generics will be difficult to identify visually. In general, oxycodone/APAP combinations are larger tablets, oblong or round, while concentrated or controlled released oxycodone pills tend to be smaller and round. When in doubt as to whether a pill is oxycodone/APAP or oxycodone, it is best to consult a pharmacist or physician to properly identify the medication.
Both oxycodone and oxycodone/APAP medications can be habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse. These medicines should be used exactly as indicated by the prescribing physician. Alcohol should be avoided when taking a medication containing oxycodone or acetaminophen, as alcohol interacts with both drugs and can cause serious health risks.