Oxycodone is an opioid drug used to relieve moderate to severe pain in adults who can’t be treated with other pain medications. Oxycodone may be prescribed following an injury, trauma, or major surgery. It may also be prescribed to treat other types of severe pain, like cancer pain.
Brand names for immediate-release oxycodone include:
- Oxy IR
Brand names for controlled or extended-release versions of oxycodone include:
- OxyContin CR (controlled-release)
- Xtampza ER (extended-release)
There are also combination medications that include oxycodone, such as:
- oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Percocet)
- oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Xartemis XR)
- oxycodone combined with aspirin (generic available)
- oxycodone combined with ibuprofen (generic available)
Oxycodone is derived from the poppy plant. It binds to the mu opioid receptor and blocks the feeling of pain. Since oxycodone works in the pleasure centers of the brain, it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. For this reason, oxycodone is classified as a federal controlled substance (C-II).
If you’ve been prescribed oxycodone, you may be curious as to how long the effects will last in your body, and how long the medication may show up on a drug test. It’s also important to understand what to do if you decide to stop taking oxycodone. Abruptly stopping the medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
The amount of oxycodone needed for analgesia (pain relief) varies widely between people. Usually, a doctor will start you on a low dose and then increase the dose slowly until your pain is well controlled. People who have taken an opioid medication before may need to take a higher dose in order to experience pain relief.
Oxycodone is taken by mouth (oral) and should be taken with food. You should start feeling the effects of oxycodone in just 20 to 30 minutes. Oxycodone reaches peak concentrations in the bloodstream in roughly one to two hours following ingestion. Extended- and controlled-release formulations can take three to four hours to reach peak concentration in the bloodstream.
Over time, you may build up a tolerance to oxycodone. This means it may take longer to feel the pain relief or the relief may not feel as strong. When this happens, your doctor may want to increase your dose or switch you to a different type of pain medication. Don’t take a larger dose of oxycodone without speaking to your doctor first.
One way to find out how long a drug will last in your body is to measure its half-life. The half-life is the time it takes for half of the drug to be eliminated from the body.
Immediate-release formulations of oxycodone have average half-life of 3.2 hours. In other words, it takes 3.2 hours for the average person to eliminate half of the dose of oxycodone. Controlled/extended-release formulations of oxycodone have a longer half-life of about 4.5 hours to 5.6 hours, on average.
It takes several half-lives to fully eliminate a drug. Since everyone metabolizes medications differently, the half-life will vary from person to person. For most people, oxycodone will fully clear the blood within 24 hours, but it can still be detected in the saliva, urine, or hair for longer than that.
Oxycodone can be detected in:
- saliva for one to four days after the last dose is taken
- urine for three to four days after the last dose is taken
- hair for up to 90 days after the last dose is taken
You will likely stop “feeling” the pain relief of oxycodone long before it fully clears your body. This is why your doctor may have you take a single tablet of oxycodone every four to six hours while you’re in pain.
Controlled or extended-release formulations last longer, so they are usually taken every 12 hours.
A number of factors can influence the time it takes for oxycodone to clear the body. These include:
The blood concentrations of oxycodone have been shown to be 15 percent higher in the elderly (over age 65) compared to younger adults. It may take longer for elderly people to clear oxycodone from their system.
According to the package insert for OxyContin, oxycodone concentration for healthy female subjects was up to 25 percent higher than in males. The same was seen in studies for Xtampza ER. The reason for this is unclear.
The average half-life of oxycodone increases by 2.3 hours in people with liver dysfunction. This means it will take longer to clear oxycodone from the body.
One study found that the average half-life of oxycodone increases by one hour in people with kidney problems.
How long you’ve been taking oxycodone
If you take oxycodone regularly, it can accumulate in fatty tissues in your body. This means that the longer you’ve been taking oxycodone, the longer it will take to be completely eliminated from the body.
The effects of oxycodone are increased if you consume alcohol. Not only will it take longer to clear oxycodone from your body, but it can also lead to dangerous side effects, including a potentially fatal overdose.
Oxycodone is cleared by your body through a pathway known as cytochrome P450 3A (CYP3A). Drugs that inhibit CYP3A4 make it more difficult for your body to break down oxycodone. Taking oxycodone with the following medications could result in serious problems, including respiratory depression:
- macrolide antibiotics, such as erythromycin
- azole antifungal agents, such as ketoconazole
- protease inhibitors
Alternatively, drugs that induce CYP3A, such as rifampin, may decrease the effects of oxycodone.
Don’t stop taking oxycodone abruptly without consulting your doctor because you can have serious withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the body has become dependent on a drug.
If you experience withdrawal symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted to oxycodone. Dependence is different from addiction. In drug dependence, the body has become used to the presence of a drug, so if you stop taking that drug suddenly, you will experience predictable symptoms known as a withdrawal symptoms.
These may include:
- watery eyes
- runny nose
- inability to sleep
- muscle cramps
- joint aches
- fast breathing
- fast heartbeat
Dependence usually doesn’t occur until after several weeks of taking the drug consistently. Your doctor may reduce your dosage gradually over time to prevent withdrawal. This is called tapering. It’s recommended that the dose is decreased gradually while monitoring carefully for signs and symptoms of withdrawal.
If you do experience withdrawal symptoms, they can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Everyone experiences withdrawal differently, but in general symptoms begin to improve within 72 hours and decrease significantly within a week. Your doctor can help you manage your symptoms.
The pain relief effect of immediate-release oxycodone will wear off within four to six hours, but the drug may still be detected in the saliva and urine for up to four days hours and in the hair for 90 days after the last dose.
There are also a number of factors that could alter the time it takes for oxycodone to clear the body, including:
- liver and kidney health
- how long you’ve been taking oxycodone
- certain medications
You shouldn’t drink alcohol or take other street drugs while taking oxycodone as these will increase your risk of experiencing major side effects, including serious breathing problems. Tell your doctor if you’re taking any other medications.
Never take more than your prescribed dose of oxycodone, even if you feel that the medicine is not working. It’s possible to overdose on oxycodone.
Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms after taking oxycodone:
- difficulty breathing
- slowed or stopped breathing
- cold, clammy skin
- loss of consciousness or coma
- extreme sleepiness
- constricted pupils
- limp or weak muscles
Opioids such as oxycodone have been associated with serious health issues, including addiction and overdose. In 2015, more than 20,000 people died from opioid prescription-related overdoses in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
You should carefully read the information contained in the product label before you begin treatment with oxycodone. Only take your prescribed dose. Contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.