How Does Oxycodone Work? - MedicineHow

How Does Oxycodone Work?

How Does Oxycodone Work

Oxycodone is a type of drug called an opioid. It works by activating opioid receptors that naturally exist in your body, which causes a number of effects on your body. One of these is to provide analgesia and relieve pain, which is what the drug is used for.

Oxycodone is a relatively strong opioid and is usually used for moderate to severe pain. It can be taken for short-term acute pain, or on an ongoing basis for chronic pain.

Brand Names and Doses

Oxycodone is the generic name, or the name of the actual drug component inside the medication. There are many different brand names, depending on which company has manufactured the drug. 

Brand names of oxycodone include: 

  • Endone tablets (5mg dose)
  • Oxycontin tablets (5mg, 10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 30mg, 40mg, 50mg doses)
  • OxyNorm capsules (5mg, 10mg, 20mg doses)
  • Oxynorm liquid (1mg/mL dose)
  • OxyNorm injection (10mg/mL or 50mg/mL doses) 
  • Proladone suppository (30mg dose) 

Oxycontin is a controlled release formulations, which means that they are produced in a special way so that the dose is slowly released from your stomach and into your bloodstream. As a result, you can take a dose less often because it lasts for a longer time.

It is important to swallow the Oxycontin tablets whole, as breaking or chewing them called interfere with the way they release the drug into your body. 

What type of drug is it?

Oxycodone is a type of drug called an opioid. This is a drug class that helps us to group drugs that work in a similar way together. Other opioid medications include:

Drug Combinations

Oxycodone is also available in combination with another drug called naloxone, under the brand name of Targin. There are several doses of this combination medication including:

  • 5mg oxycodoen with 2.5mg naloxone
  • 10mg oxcodone with 5mg naloxone
  • 20mg oxycodone with 10mg naloxone
  • 40mg oxycodone with 20mg naloxone

​This combination may be recommended if you have constipation as a side effect of oxycodone that is not relieved with regular laxatives. 

What is Oxycodone used for?

Oxycodone is usually in the relief of moderate to severe pain because it is a relatively strong opioid.

For milder pain, it is usually best to use a weaker opioid, such as codeine, because there is a lower risk of side effects. 

How does Oxycodone work?

Everyone naturally has endogenous opioids inside their body, which can bind to special receptors, called opioid receptors, to activate several effects in the body. When an endogenous opioid attaches to the right receptor, it can lead to several effects in the body including:

  • Analgesia to relieve pain
  • Slowing down of breathing
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty defecating

Oxycodone manipulates this natural process by activating the same receptors that the endogenous opioids do. It mimics the effect of natural opioids in your body. 

Oxycodone can also decrease the transmission of pain impulses in the body by interrupting the pain messages in the spinal cord and interfering with the messages coming from the brain in the central nervous system (CNS). 

Side Effects

There are several general side effects of opioid medications such as codone that can affect some people, such as drowsiness, dizziness, headache, dry mouth and urinating less often. 

You can find out more information about some of the specific side effects by clicking on them below. 



Respiratory Depression



There are some people who may need special attention if they take oxycodone due to other medications or health conditions they have. For example, if you have the following conditions often you may need a lower dose than usual:

  • ​Slow heart rate
  • Endocrine disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Adrenocortical insufficiency
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Central nervos system (CNS) depression
  • Frequent use of alcohol

Additionally, people with epilepsy are more likely to have a seizure while taking oxycodone, so this should be considered.

Special Cases

People who are elderly often require a lower dose of oxycodone than other adults, particularly if they have poor kidney or liver function.

This is because their body takes longer to process the drug, so the concentration in the bloodstream builds up more quickly. As a result, elderly people are more likely to experience side effects, such as cognitive impairment, sedation and respiratory depression. They may also be at risk for having a fall.


Taking oxycodone at the same time as another drug can sometimes change their effect on your body because of the way they interact.

If you take it at the same time as rifampicin or St John's Wort, your body will metabolize oxycodone more quickly. ​This may decrease the pain relief and side effects, and the dose of oxycodone may need to be increased as a result.

If you take it at the same time as ritonavir or voriconazole, your body will metabolize oxycodone more slowly. ​This may increase the pain relief and side effects so the dose of oxycodone may need to be decreased.

Any medication that blocks the action of opioids, such as buprenorphine, naloxone or naltrexone, can decrease the action of oxycodone. These drugs are not usually used together.  

All drugs that cause your breathing to slow down can increase the risk of a serious side effect of oxycodone: respiratory depression. Many drugs to lower blood pressure, such as beta blockers, can have this effect. This combination can be used, but it's important that your doctor knows that you are taking oxycodone and checks that the dose is right for your body. 

Some drugs that are used in the treatment of depression called selective seretonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can cause a condition called seretonin toxicity. The risk of this is higher if oxycodone is taken at the same time, so you need to be on the lookout for early signs.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Oxycodone is not usually recommended for women who are pregnant for two main reasons.

  1. There is an increased risk of respiratory depression in the baby, which can be fatal.
  2. The baby may experience withdrawal symptoms after birth due to the sudden decrease in dose of oxycodone when they are no longer connected to the mother's bloodstream.

Instead, it is  best for pregnant women to take other medications ato relieve pain while they are pregnant, such as paracetamol. For more severe pain, a weaker opioid drug such as codeine is sometimes used. 

For women who are breastfeeding, occasional doses of oxycodone may be used. There may still be some risk to your baby if they are used everyday for an extended period of time, so it is best to keep the treatment time short, if possible. 

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How Does Oxycodone Work?
About the author


Yolanda is a passionate medical writer who loves to help people understand how health and different treatments work. After graduating in Pharmacy in Australia, she moved to Italy to study the Mediterranean way of life and continue learning about health and medicine.


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