More than 130 people die every day after overdosing on opioids.1 In 2017 alone, there were 47,600 overdose deaths involving opioids.2 The American opioid crisis continues to escalate with growing numbers of overdose deaths at a pandemic scale. This article explains the key differences and similarities of two popular yet deadly opioids: fentanyl vs. oxycodone.
What are these Opioids?
Opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, are used to help relieve moderate to severe pain.3 They work by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. Opioids drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward centers to produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation. There are also opioid receptors in the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, can cause your breathing to stop completely.4 This is part of what makes them so deadly.
Opioid Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms: Fentanyl vs Oxycodone
Both fentanyl and oxycodone are very potent and highly addictive.5,6 Many people unintentionally become addicted while using prescription doses and following their doctor’s instructions.
People experience extreme withdrawal symptoms when they quit using fentanyl. Some of the symptoms include exhaustion and fatigue, memory problems, anxiety, weakness, general bodily pain, and more. Those symptoms can last 1-2 weeks before the detox is complete.7 Detox from oxycodone typically includes symptoms such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, general bodily pain, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and more. These withdrawal symptoms from oxycodone last for about one week.8
Unfortunately, these extreme withdrawal symptoms make it difficult for people to quit using opioids and perpetuate their addictions until they turn deadly
How are Opioids Used? Fentanyl vs Oxycodone
Medically prescribed fentanyl can be used through lozenges, lollipops, oral and nasal sprays, and injections. Illicit use of fentanyl also happens through snorting or smoking it. Illicit fentanyl users usually don’t have any way of telling if it has been mixed with any other drugs, which makes an overdose more likely and deadlier.9
On the other hand, oxycodone is slightly more streamlined. Oxycodone is found in tablet, capsule, and liquid forms. It can be formulated for either short or long-term pain relief.10
Popularity & Power: Fentanyl vs. Oxycodone
Given the large amount of illicit use of both opioids, it’s nearly impossible to tell exactly how many people use either fentanyl vs oxycodone, or how much those people use them. Unfortunately, the primary metric that measures the opioid crisis is analyzing overdose deaths. In recent years, fentanyl has become the number one killer in the American opioid crisis. Between 2013 and 2016, overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased by about 113% each year.11
We can’t jump to the conclusion that fentanyl is the most popular opioid on the market based on the staggering number of overdose deaths that it is involved in. That’s because it is simply much easier to overdose on fentanyl than any other opioid. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.12 While it takes 30 milligrams for a dose of heroin (another popular opioid) to become fatal, a dose of only 2-3 milligrams of fentanyl is deadly.13 The difference between a therapeutic dose and a fatal dose of fentanyl can be as small as a microgram.14
While fentanyl has been in the limelight as the opioid crisis develops, there has been quite a bit of activity involving oxycodone as well. Although the U.S. only contains about 5% of the world population, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 81% of the world’s supply of oxycodone is consumed here.15 Oxycodone is 50% more powerful than morphine16 and doses as small as 10 milligrams frequently cause overdose deaths.17 While fentanyl is the most commonly used drug in overdose deaths,18 oxycodone is also one of the top three deadliest opioids in the U.S.19
Fentanyl vs Oxycodone… Both Addictive. Both Deadly.
Oxycodone doesn’t deliver as strong of a euphoric feeling as fentanyl. However, it’s ease of use and low profile (just swallow a pill), combined with the slightly lower risk of overdose may make it more attractive for illicit use. Despite it being hard to tell for sure which is more popular, the facts remain that both fentanyl and oxycodone are addictive and deadly. Unfortunately, we may never know the true prevalence of fentanyl or oxycodone before it’s too late for even more of their victims. If you know someone who uses opioids, legally or illegally, please make sure that they are aware of the risks that they face. You may not be aware, but almost everyone knows someone who’s life has been changed by opioids.
Help us raise awareness about opioids and the risks that come with them. Share if you care:
Citations: Fentanyl vs Oxycodone – Opioid Crisis
1 Opioid Overdose Crisis. (2019). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
2 Overdose Death Rates. (2019). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
3 Cold, F., Health, E., & Disease, H. (2019). Drugs & Medications. Webmd.com. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-1025-5278/oxycodone-oral/oxycodone-oral/details
4 Fentanyl. (2016). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
5 Fentanyl Addiction: Symptoms and Signs of Abuse. (2019). American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/fentanyl-treatment/signs-of-abuse
6 Oxycodone Symptoms and Warning Signs. (2019). Addictioncenter.com. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/oxycodone/symptoms-signs/
7 Recovery, S. (2019). Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline – Solutions Recovery. Solutions Recovery. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://www.solutions-recovery.com/detox/fentanyl-withdrawal/
8 Oxycodone Withdrawal Symptoms, Length, and Detox Centers. (2019). American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/oxycodone
9 Alan Carter, P. (2019). Fentanyl: Use, abuse, side effects, and warnings. Medical News Today. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308156.php
10 Want to Learn More About the Pain Pill Oxycodone?. (2019). Verywell Health. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/oxycodone-for-pain-management-2564545
11 Fentanyl Now the No. 1 Opioid OD Killer. (2019). WebMD. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20181212/fentanyl-now-the-no-1-opioid-od-killer#1
12 Is Fentanyl More Deadly Than Heroin? – DrugAbuse.com. (2016). DrugAbuse.com. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://drugabuse.com/fentanyl/is-more-deadly-than-heroin/
13 The Truth About Fentanyl . (2019). Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/newsletter/issue13/the-truth-about-fentanyl.html
14 Fentanyl – Drug Free VA. (2019). Drug Free VA. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://drugfreeva.org/sink-or-swim/drug-facts/prescription-drugs/fentanyl/
15 Oxycodone History and Statistics – DrugAbuse.com. (2015). DrugAbuse.com. Retrieved 27 February 2019, from https://drugabuse.com/oxycodone/history-statistics/
16 Keating, Dan.; Granados, Samuel. (2017 October, 25). See How Deadly Street Opioids Like ‘Elephant Tranquilizer’ Have Become. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/health/opioids-scale/?noredirect=on
17 Hirsch A, e. (2019). Prescription histories and dose strengths associated with overdose deaths. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25202775
18 Fentanyl Most Commonly Used Drug Involved in Overdose Deaths – Partnership News Service from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (2019). Where Families Find Answers on Substance Use | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/fentanyl-most-commonly-used-drug-involved-in-overdose-deaths/
19 How Oxycodone Has Contributed to the Opioid Epidemic. (2019). Pharmacytimes.com. Retrieved 28 February 2019, from https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/marilyn-bulloch-pharmd-bcps/2018/08/how-oxycodone-has-contributed-to-the-opioid-epidemic