Over the past several years, drugs created for the better good of society have become the most evil storyline in our country and abroad. Opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl have earned a notorious reputation despite being made to treat chronic pain and opioid-resistant chronic pain. If you were in a serious accident or had an operation, you’ve likely been given one of these drugs. While most people who use them won’t develop an addiction, a disproportionate number of people will become dependent on oxycodone or fentanyl. Both are depressants and belong to the same drug class, but if you’re unfamiliar with oxycodone and fentanyl, you might wonder what the major differences are.
Despite making modern medicinal pain relief possible, oxycodone and fentanyl are a cause for concern. According to the latest drug overdose figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 107,622 people lost their lives because of drugs in the United States, up significantly from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020. Although these statistics account for all drugs, opioids caused the biggest number of fatalities. In 2020, 70,029 people died from opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone, which rose to 80,816 in 2021. Illicit fentanyl was responsible for this jump.
Opioid addiction has always been a problem globally. The use of opioids for pain relief became widespread in the early 1860s in the United States. These drugs were designated for treating wounded soldiers who were given morphine. Unfortunately, many developed dependencies and addictions in the years to follow, a story as old as time itself. Then, in 1898, the Bayer Company introduced heroin to the world, claiming the odds of becoming dependent were lower than morphine, which, unfortunately, wasn’t true.
Fast forward to 1995, Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin onto the scene, which is a version of oxycodone, and it was the final nail in the coffin of the opioid crisis in the United States. This form of oxycodone was marketed as a less addictive opioid pill. Over the next 20 years, doctors prescribed the drug without issue, failing to realize the consequences of their actions. It became so widespread that the government intervened and created new restrictions on prescribing. It led to a surge in heroin use, followed by fentanyl. Oxycodone and fentanyl are extremely potent drugs that single-handedly made the opioid crisis what it is today.
Today, our streets are filled with misery. According to the most recent figures released by the National Library of Medicine (NCBI) on opioids, opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid addiction remain at epidemic levels in our country. An estimated 3 million people in the United States are suffering from an opioid use disorder. That number jumps significantly to 16 million globally. A rise in mental illness and poor opioid prescribing practices have led to this and show no signs of letting up. How do we prevent this and avoid another surge next year? Learning more about the differences between oxycodone and fentanyl can help.
What Is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that falls under the opioid class of drugs known as a narcotic analgesic. It’s only available by prescription when someone is experiencing severe enough pain that it warrants opioid treatment or when other pain medications didn’t provide a desired pain relief effect. Oxycodone is available in various forms, including OxyNorm, OxyContin, and others.
Oxycodone works by stopping pain signals that travel along the nerves to the brain. When administered as a liquid and capsule, pain relief will occur in as little as 30 to 60 minutes. However, it wears off faster after four to six hours. Unfortunately, the risk of becoming addicted to oxycodone is high. Still, a prescribing physician will discuss the pros and cons of using this medication before determining if it’s right for you. They will also explain the risks of becoming addicted. If you’re not comfortable with it, alternative options exist.
If you need oxycodone for the treatment of chronic pain, which means you have to take it for more than a few weeks, the treatment plan will include specific details on how and when you must stop taking this medication.
Oxycodone Side Effects
Oxycodone is an extremely potent opioid. Even in small doses, you will experience side effects. These can range from mild to severe. If you experience undesirable side effects and feel the medication is too strong, speak to your doctor. The most common oxycodone side effects include the following:
- Cold sweats
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficult or labored breathing
- Faintness, dizziness, or lightheadedness when you get up suddenly from sitting or lying down
- Blood in the urine
- Chest pain
- Difficulty with swallowing
- Bloating in your arms, face, hands, lower legs, or feet
- Burning while urinating
- Decrease in the frequency of urination
- Decreased urine output
- Fast, pounding, irregular heartbeat
- Muscle pain or cramps
- Sunken eyes
- Trembling or shaking of your hands and feet
- Severe constipation
- Lack or loss of strength
- Relaxed and calm feeling
Many potential side effects are associated with oxycodone, with tolerance, dependence, and addiction being others. Many people who take the drug will use the prescribed amount. However, as their bodies become tolerant to the medication, the prescribed dose will not produce its desired effect. To maintain their pain relief or feelings of intoxication, they’ll need higher doses. The transition from abuse to addiction is often quick and dangerous. Oxycodone is extremely potent, and it’s often hard to keep use in control, even if you’re taking it for pain. It can quickly spiral into addiction.
Many people use oxycodone as prescribed. However, eventually, their bodies will become tolerant, meaning their pain management physician might consider something more potent like fentanyl. Let’s take a look below to learn more about fentanyl and how it differs from oxycodone.
What Is Fentanyl?
You might have heard of the illicit version of fentanyl and didn’t realize it’s a commonly prescribed opioid. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid that shares characteristics of morphine. However, it’s 50 to 100 times more powerful. It’s prescribed to people who become tolerant of opioids like oxycodone and aren’t benefiting from their pain relief regimens. Although it’s prescribed legally, there are illicit versions flooding the streets and causing negative press, which has led to the surge of overdose deaths in our nation.
Similar to morphine or oxycodone, fentanyl is used to treat extreme pain, especially after surgery. However, like its counterparts, tolerance will occur, leading you to need higher or more frequent doses to achieve your desired pain relief. Most people will use fentanyl as prescribed. However, it can lead to a spiral of drug addiction that’s hard to treat.
As mentioned above, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, compared to a meager 14.3 percent in 2010. Today, that figure is even higher.
How Is Fentanyl Used?
When a licensed physician gives you fentanyl, you could receive it as a shot, a patch placed on the skin, or as lozenges taken like cough drops. Illegally used fentanyl, the form associated with overdoses and made in clandestine labs in Mexico, is sold unlawfully as a powder. Law enforcement has also seen it placed onto blotter paper, put in nasal spray and eye droppers, or made into pills that look like oxycodone pills. It prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to create a campaign called “One Pill Can Kill,” highlighting the dangers of pills that appear to be oxycodone but primarily contain fentanyl.
The One Pill Can Kill campaign highlights a sinister movement in the United States where dealers are mixing fentanyl with various other drugs. This is done because it takes very little fentanyl to produce a high, making it the superior and cheaper option. It’s especially risky when someone believes they’re purchasing oxycodone, but it ends up being fentanyl. This is one reason fentanyl overdose cases are so high across the country. Their body is not tolerant of fentanyl, and the odds of overdosing are extremely high.
Side Effects of Fentanyl
Like oxycodone and other opioids, fentanyl works by binding itself to opioid receptors located throughout the body responsible for pain and emotions. When you continuously take opioids, your brain adapts to the presence of fentanyl. It becomes less sensitive and makes it challenging to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug. When someone becomes addicted to fentanyl, rug seeking and drug use consume their lives.
The most common side effects of fentanyl include the following:
- Extreme euphoria and happiness
- Decreased sexual desire
- Loss of appetite
- Irregular menstruation
- Inability to get or keep an erection
- Changes in vision
- Dry mouth
- Nodding off
- Issues breathing
Fentanyl and oxycodone are dangerous drugs, but what are the major differences?
The Major Differences Between Oxycodone and Fentanyl
While both drugs share similarities based on the fact that they’re depressants and opioids, you need to know about some key differences before taking them.
The most glaring difference between oxycodone and fentanyl is their potencies. Fentanyl is among the most dangerous and potent opioid drugs on earth. It’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, which is 1.5 times more potent than oxycodone. When either drug is misused or abused, overdose is possible. However, misusing or abusing fentanyl is even more dangerous because such small amounts can be fatal. This is especially true on the illicit market when you aren’t certain about the dosage or how much you should be taking. With prescription fentanyl, a doctor will instruct you on how much to take and when to take it.
Another noticeable difference between prescription fentanyl and oxycodone is the method in which it’s consumed. Prescription fentanyl is available as a nasal spray, transdermal patch, sublingual tablet, lozenge, and solution for intravenous or intramuscular use. Oxycodone is available as a tablet or capsule that must be taken orally. However, with the flood of illicit fentanyl, it’s available as a powder or a tablet. Many drug dealers have pressed Percocet and other drugs that contain oxycodone with fentanyl.
Another difference between oxycodone and fentanyl is their duration of action, which is the amount of time a drug is effective in your system. This also depends on which formulation of each medication you’re using. For example, an intramuscular fentanyl injection has a duration of action of around one to two hours, whereas intravenously, it’s 30 minutes to one hour. As a nasal spray, fentanyl lasts about one hour, a sublingual tablet lasts around one to two hours, and fentanyl patches for up to 96 hours. On the other hand, oxycodone immediate-release tablets have a duration of action of three to six hours. Controlled release formulations like OxyContin last up to 12 hours.
The two drugs also have a different onset of action, which is also dependent on the formulation. The onset of action refers to the time the drug is administered before someone feels its effects. Someone who takes fentanyl intravenously will notice its effects in seconds, whereas an intramuscular injection can take anywhere from eight to 15 minutes. Fentanyl administered as a nasal spray will produce effects in seven minutes, transmucosal in 15 minutes, and fentanyl patches in six hours. Oxycodone immediate-release pills taken as intended orally will have effects in 15 minutes, and controlled-release formulations take up to one hour.
Despite their differences in strength, one study showed that oxycodone and fentanyl produce similar post-op pain relief. However, the difference was that oxycodone was far less sedating than fentanyl. They also found oxycodone had more side effects than fentanyl, but the difference was not significant enough to be worthy of exploring more.
Oxycodone and fentanyl are both drugs that someone can develop a dependence on, even if they’re taking them as prescribed. If that’s the case, the individual might require a medical detox to safely overcome withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal is among the most uncomfortable of all drugs in existence. It is a significant reason why many people fall victim to addiction and too often lose their lives.
One reason opioids like oxycodone are so hard to quit is because of the withdrawal symptoms it produces. At a certain point of abusing oxycodone, the individual doesn’t take the drug to feel euphoria – they use it to feel normal. When you become chemically dependent on the drug and turn into a heavy user, you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you take less than your body is accustomed to or stop altogether. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on how much you take.
Symptoms can become so uncomfortable that someone who’s never used illicit opioids like heroin or fentanyl may consider it if that’s all they can obtain. This can lead to an overdose or becoming addicted to harder and more potent drugs. Again, you will eventually reach a point where the drug has no effect on you. If that occurs and you miss a dose or take less, you’ll go through oxycodone withdrawal.
Symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal will show up around eight to 12 hours after your last dose. Less frequent users or those who take smaller doses will experience less intense symptoms than chronic, heavy oxycodone abusers. For the most part, oxycodone withdrawal symptoms mimic symptoms of the flu and are similar to heroin withdrawals.
The most common symptoms include the following:
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Increased heart rate
- Poor concentration
- Sometimes severe body aches and pains
- Inability to feel pleasure without oxycodone
- Severe mood swings like flying off the handle and getting angry at something simple
The duration of oxycodone withdrawal will vary from one person to another, but the following can give you a better idea of how it’ll affect you:
- The dose of oxycodone taken regularly
- How long oxycodone has been used
- How often oxycodone is used
- Whether oxycodone is used in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol
- How oxycodone was taken, e.g., snorting, orally, or injection
- Mental health and medical history
- Gender, weight, and age
Like oxycodone, fentanyl produces similar withdrawal symptoms. However, because of its potency, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are often more severe. Overcoming opioid withdrawal without professional help isn’t wise, but it’s not impossible with drugs like oxycodone. When it comes to fentanyl, users report incredible challenges overcoming it without medical detox. One of the primary dangers of withdrawing from fentanyl is if you manage to get through a few days without taking it but relapse, your tolerance has decreased to a point where you can overdose. Even users with a high tolerance can succumb to a fentanyl overdose after a few days of cessation.
When used as prescribed, fentanyl is an effective tool in managing chronic pain. However, when misused and abused, it causes destruction on a broad scale, which is why the United States is in the throes of an opioid crisis. For that reason, seeking professional treatment is your best option to stop fentanyl.
Unlike oxycodone, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms don’t begin until 12 to 30 hours after your last dose. In its patch form, which is an extended-release version of fentanyl, the effects will continue for up to 72 hours. Fentanyl patches have a half-life of 17 hours, meaning withdrawal won’t start for a day or more after you stop. The most common side effects include:
- Tearing up
- Stomach cramps
- Extreme pain in your joints and muscles
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Severe anxiety
The same factors apply to fentanyl as oxycodone as to what dictates the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Medical Detox for Oxycodone and Fentanyl
Another similarity that the two opioids share is the need for professional addiction treatment when it comes to stopping. Oxycodone and fentanyl are both extremely potent opioid drugs, and many people give in to how they feel and take more during withdrawal to make the pain go away. This can be dangerous, and it means they’ll be trapped in the cycle of addiction until help is sought.
Fortunately, facilities exist to treat this and will help you avoid becoming a statistic. As opioid use continues to soar, sobriety will set you free. Don’t wait another day – if you want to stop oxycodone or fentanyl, seek treatment right away.