1. About oxycodone
Oxycodone is an opiate painkiller. It's used to treat severe pain, for example after an operation or a serious injury, or pain from cancer.
Oxycodone is only available on prescription. It comes as slow-release tablets, capsules and a liquid which you swallow. It can also be given by an injection, but this is usually done in hospital.
Oxycodone is also known by the brand names Oxynorm and OxyContin.
It's sometimes given as a tablet which also has a medicine called naloxone in it (Targinact). This is used to prevent certain side effects, such as constipation.
2. Key facts
- Oxycodone works by stopping pain signals travelling along the nerves to the brain.
- Oxycodone liquid and capsules work in 30 to 60 minutes but wear off after 4 to 6 hours.
- It's possible to become addicted to oxycodone, but this is rare if you're taking it to relieve pain and as your doctor has prescribed.
- Oxycodone can cause withdrawal problems. Do not stop taking the medicine suddenly.
- The most common side effects of oxycodone are constipation, feeling sick and sleepy.
3. Who can and cannot take oxycodone
Oxycodone can be taken by adults and children aged 1 month and older.
Babies, young children and older people are more likely to get side effects.
Oxycodone is not suitable for some people. Tell your doctor before starting this medicine if you:
- have ever had an allergic reaction to oxycodone or any other medicine
- have lung problems, asthma or breathing difficulties
- have an addiction to alcohol
- have a head injury or condition which causes seizures or fits
- have an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- have kidney or liver problems
- have an enlarged prostate
- have low blood pressure (hypotension)
- have a mental health condition which is affected by certain medicines
- have had recent stomach surgery or bowel problems
- are trying to get pregnant, are already pregnant or if you're breastfeeding
4. How and when to take it
It's important to take oxycodone as your doctor has asked you to.
Take oxycodone with, or just after, a meal or snack as it's less likely to make you feel sick.
It's important to swallow slow-release oxycodone tablets whole with a drink of water.
Do not break, crush, chew or suck oxycodone slow-release tablets. If you do, the slow-release system will not work and the whole dose might get into your body in one go. This could cause an overdose.
Oxycodone comes as:
- capsules – these contain 5mg, 10mg or 20mg of oxycodone
- slow-release tablets – these contain 5mg, 10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 30mg, 40mg, 60mg, 80mg or 120mg of oxycodone
- liquid – this contains 5mg of oxycodone in 5ml or 10mg of oxycodone in 1ml of liquid.
Oxycodone liquid, capsules and injections work faster (fast acting). They're used for pain which is expected to last for a short time and often used when you start taking oxycodone, to help find the right dose.
Oxycodone tablets are slow release. This means the oxycodone is gradually released into your body over either 12 or 24 hours. This type of oxycodone takes longer to start working but lasts longer. It's used for long-term pain.
Sometimes your doctor may prescribe both fast-acting and slow-release oxycodone to manage long-term pain.
How often will I take it?
How often you take it depends on the type of oxycodone that you've been prescribed:
- capsules – usually 4 to 6 times a day
- slow-release tablets – usually 1 to 2 times a day
- liquid – usually 4 to 6 times a day
You can take oxycodone at any time of day, but try to take it at the same time every day and space your doses evenly. For example, if you take oxycodone twice a day and have your first dose at 8am, take your second dose at 8pm.
Will my dose go up or down?
Usually, you start on a low dose of oxycodone and this is increased gradually until your pain is well controlled. Once your pain is under control, your doctor may prescribe slow-release tablets. This may cut down the number of doses you have to take each day.
When you stop taking oxycodone your doctor will gradually reduce your dose, especially if you've been taking it for a long time.
What if I forget to take it?
This will depend on which type of oxycodone you're taking.
If you forget to take a dose, check the information that comes with the medicine or ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Never take 2 doses at the same time to make up for a forgotten one.
If you often forget doses, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask a pharmacist for advice on other ways to remember to take your medicine.
What if I take too much?
Urgent advice: Call 111 now if:
- you take too much oxycodone
If you take too much oxycodone you may feel very sleepy, sick or dizzy, find it difficult to breathe or become unconscious.
Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111
If you need advice for a child under the age of 5 years, call 111.
If you go to A&E, do not drive yourself – get someone else to drive you or call for an ambulance.
Take the oxycodone box or leaflet inside the packet plus any remaining medicine with you.
Where to store oxycodone
If you're prescribed oxycodone, it's really important that you:
- store it properly and safely at home
- keep it out of the sight and reach of children
- do not give your medicine to anyone else
- return any unused oxycodone to a pharmacy so it can be thrown away safely
5. Taking oxycodone with other painkillers
Do not take oxycodone with painkillers that contain codeine. You will be more likely to get side effects.
Painkillers that contain codeine include co-codamol (codeine and paracetamol), Nurofen Plus (codeine and ibuprofen) co-codaprin (codeine and aspirin) and Solpadeine (codeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and caffeine).
6. Side effects
Like all medicines, oxycodone can cause side effects in some people, but many people have no side effects or only minor ones.
The higher the dose of oxycodone the more chance that you will get side effects.
Common side effects
Common side effects happen in more than 1 in 100 people. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if these side effects bother you or do not go away:
- feeling or being sick (nausea or vomiting)
- stomach discomfort
- feeling sleepy or tired
- feeling dizzy and a sensation of spinning (vertigo)
- itchiness or rash
Serious side effects
Serious side effects happen in less than 1 in 100 people. Call a doctor if you have:
- muscle stiffness
- feel dizzy, tired and have low energy – this could be a sign of low blood pressure (hypotension)
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
- you have had a seizure or fit (where your body jerks and shakes)
- you have difficulty breathing or short shallow breathing
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to oxycodone.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E now if:
- you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
- you're wheezing
- you get tightness in the chest or throat
- you have trouble breathing or talking
- your mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling
You could be having a serious allergic reaction and may need immediate treatment in hospital.
These are not all the side effects of oxycodone. For a full list, see the leaflet inside your medicine packet.
You can report any suspected side effect to the UK safety scheme.
7. How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
- constipation – try to include more high-fibre foods in your diet such as fruits, vegetables and cereals. Try to drink several glasses of water each day. If you can, it may also help to do some gentle exercise. Ask your doctor about medicine to help prevent or treat constipation caused by oxycodone.
- stomach discomfort, feeling or being sick – take oxycodone with or just after a meal or snack to ease feelings of sickness. Ensure the tablets or capsules are swallowed whole with a glass of water. This side effect should usually wear off after a few days. Talk to a doctor about taking anti-sickness medicine if it carries on for longer.
- feeling sleepy, tired or dizzy – these side effects should wear off within a week or two as your body gets used to oxycodone. Talk to a doctor if they carry on for longer.
- confusion – talk to a doctor if you feel confused. Your dose may need to be adjusted.
- headaches – make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. It may be best not to drink alcohol while taking oxycodone as this can make headaches worse. It's safe to take an everyday painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Talk to a doctor if headaches last longer than a week or are severe.
itchiness or rash – it may help to take an antihistamine which you can buy from a pharmacy. Check with the pharmacist to see what type is suitable for you. If symptoms do not go away or they get worse, talk to a doctor as you may need to try a different painkiller.
Do not take any other medicines to treat the side effects of oxycodone without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor first.
8. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Oxycodone is generally not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
In early pregnancy, it's been linked to some problems for your baby. If you take oxycodone at the end of pregnancy there's a risk that your baby may get withdrawal symptoms or be addicted to oxycodone when they're born.
However, it's important to treat pain in pregnancy. For some pregnant women with severe pain, oxycodone might be the right medicine. Your doctor is the best person to help you decide what's right for you and your baby.
Find out more about how oxycodone can affect you and your baby during pregnancy) from Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPS).
Oxycodone and breastfeeding
Oxycodone is not usually recommended if you're breastfeeding. Small amounts of oxycodone pass into breast milk and may cause breathing problems for your baby.
Tell a doctor if you are breastfeeding. They may be able to recommend a different painkiller.
Non-urgent advice: Tell a doctor if you’re:
- trying to get pregnant
9. Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines and oxycodone interfere with each other and increase the chance that you will have side effects.
Tell a doctor before you start taking oxycodone if you are taking any medicines:
- to help you sleep
- for depression or mental health problems – some types cannot be taken with oxycodone
- for high blood pressure (hypertension)
- to help stop you feeling or being sick (vomiting), such as domperidone or metoclopramide
- to treat symptoms of an allergy such as antihistamines
- to reduce tension or anxiety
- for an infection
- to control seizures of fits due to epilepsy
Mixing oxycodone with herbal remedies and supplements
It's not possible to say that oxycodone is safe to take with herbal remedies and supplements. They're not tested for the effect they have on other medicines in the same way pharmacy and prescription medicines are.
Tell a doctor or pharmacist if you're taking any other medicines, including herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements.
10. Common questions
How does oxycodone work?
Oxycodone is from a group of medicines called opiates, or narcotics.
It works in the central nervous system and the brain to block pain signals to the rest of the body. It also reduces the anxiety and stress caused by pain.
How long does it take to work?
This depends on the type of oxycodone you take – fast acting or slow acting.
Fast-acting oxycodone (capsules and liquid) take 30 to 60 minutes to work, but these wear off after 4 to 6 hours.
Slow-acting oxycodone (tablets) can take 1 to 2 days to work fully, but the pain relief will last longer.
An oxycodone injection into a vein gives the quickest pain relief and works almost straight away.
How long will I take it for?
Depending on why you're taking oxycodone, you may only need to take it for a short time.
For example, if you're in pain after an injury or operation, you may only need to take oxycodone for a few days or weeks at most.
You may need to take it for longer if you have a long-term condition such as cancer.
Can I become addicted to oxycodone?
It is possible to become addicted to oxycodone, but this is rare, especially if you are taking it as a doctor has prescribed.
The dose you take will be reviewed to make sure you are only taking the amount you need to control your pain.
If you're taking oxycodone to relieve pain (rather than using it as a recreational drug) it's unlikely you will get addicted to it because you're not taking it to get a "high".
How will I know if I'm addicted?
If you're addicted to oxycodone, you may find it difficult to stop taking it or feel you need to take it more often than necessary.
If you stop taking it suddenly you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- feeling agitated, anxious or nervous
- panic attacks
- difficulty sleeping
- pins and needles
- ringing in the ears
Talk to a doctor if you're worried about addiction or if you want to know more about how to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Is it safe to take for a long time?
For some people with conditions who need long-term pain relief, it may be necessary to take oxycodone for a long time.
If you need to take it for a long time, your body can become tolerant to it. That means you need higher doses to control your pain.
What will happen if I stop taking it?
If you need to take oxycodone for a long time, your body can get used to it.
This is not usually a problem, but if you stop taking it suddenly you could get withdrawal symptoms such as:
- feeling agitated, anxious or nervous
- panic attacks
- difficulty sleeping
- pins and needles
- ringing in the ears
If you want to stop taking oxycodone, talk to a doctor first. Your dose can be reduced gradually so you do not get these symptoms.
How is it different to other opiates?
Oxycodone acts on different pain signals in the brain to some other opiates. This does not mean it's better for certain conditions.
The pain relief and side effects which you can get from oxycodone will be different for individual people. A doctor may prescribe oxycodone if you have had side effects from other opiates.
Can I drink alcohol with it?
It's best to stop drinking alcohol during the first few days of treatment, or if a doctor increases your dose, until you see how oxycodone affects you.
Drinking alcohol while you're taking oxycodone may make you feel more sleepy or increase the risk of serious side effects.
Is there any food or drink I need to avoid?
Grapefruit juice can increase the amount of oxycodone in your body so it's a good idea to avoid it while you're taking oxycodone.
Oxycodone is not generally affected by any other food or drink (except alcohol).
Will it affect my fertility?
There's no firm evidence to suggest that taking oxycodone will reduce fertility in women or men.
However, speak to a pharmacist or doctor if you're trying to get pregnant. They may want to review your treatment.
Can I drive or ride a bike?
Do not drive a car, ride a bike or operate machinery if oxycodone gives you blurred vision, makes you feel dizzy, sleepy, clumsy or unable to concentrate or make decisions.
This may be more likely when you first start taking oxycodone but could happen at any time – for example when starting another medicine or if a doctor increases your dose.
It's an offence to drive a car if your ability to drive safely is affected. It's your responsibility to decide if it's safe to drive. If you're in any doubt, do not drive.
It may be best not to drink alcohol while taking oxycodone as you're more likely to get side effects like feeling sleepy.
Even if your ability to drive is not affected, police have the right to request a saliva sample to check how much morphine is in your body.
Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you're unsure whether it's safe for you to drive while taking oxycodone.
Will recreational drugs affect it?
If you take recreational drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin, while you're taking oxycodone, you're more likely to get the serious side effects of oxycodone including breathing difficulties, muscle stiffness, low blood pressure and seizures or fits.
Some recreational drugs, such as cannabis, will also increase oxycodone side effects and make you feel sleepy and dizzy.
Taking heroin while you're taking prescribed oxycodone is especially dangerous. You're more likely to get all the side effects of oxycodone, including addiction.
Tell your doctor if you take recreational drugs while you're taking oxycodone.