Oxycodone vs. Percocet: What’s the Difference?

comparing opioids

You say tomato. I say tomahto.

You say oxycodone. I say Percocet. Same difference, right?

Actually, no. The two drugs do have some similarities, but when comparing opioids, the terms are not interchangeable.

Let’s talk about how they differ.

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Who Answers?

Chemical Makeup

comparing opioidsBoth of these drugs are opioid pain medications. Oxycodone is a synthetic drug made from opium. Percocet is made of oxycodone and acetaminophen. (Acetaminophen is another painkiller, which you probably know by its brand name: Tylenol.)

If you take either of these drugs, you’re taking oxycodone. But when you take Percocet, you’re also getting the second medication, acetaminophen. This is one of the primary reasons oxycodone and Percocet get confused when comparing opioids.

Oxycodone is a generic drug, which is sold under several brand names. Percocet is one if the brand name drugs made with oxycodone.

Oxycodone and Percocet Use

Oxycodone is available in three different forms, which are used for different types of treatment:

  • Immediate-release tablets enter the bloodstream right away
  • Extended-release tablets gradually release the drug into the bloodstream
  • An oral solution, often given through a gastric tube, is available for patients who can’t swallow tablets

Oxycodone is used for treating moderate to severe pain. The extended-release form is often prescribed for patients who have ongoing pain, such as cancer-related issues. 

Percocet is also prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. But it is used for treating conditions that also cause a fever because acetaminophen is a fever reducer. It may also be used to treat patients who experience pain while on another long-acting painkiller. 

Percocet is not recommended for long-term use, since the acetaminophen in it can wreak havoc on the liver and cause serious damage over time.


Both drugs are proven to effectively relieve pain. When you take Percocet or immediate-release oxycodone, you start to feel relief within half an hour, and the effects usually last for three to six hours. 

Extended-release oxycodone starts to work within two hours and continues to relieve pain for up to 12 hours. The brand name drug OxyContin is a type of extended-release oxycodone.

Over time, patients can develop tolerance to these drugs. This means they need higher doses to get the same pain relief. Tolerance can begin to develop within just one week of taking regular doses of either drug.

Side Effects

Since we’re comparing opioids with the same primary ingredient, both oxycodone and Percocet naturally have similar side effects.

Both commonly cause:

  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness
  • Calmness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Impaired motor skills

There are two main differences in their side effects:

  • Oxycodone is more likely to cause feelings of euphoria
  • Percocet can cause abdominal pain, black stools, and yellowing of the skin (jaundice) because of its effect on the liver

One of the biggest potential side effects of either drug is addiction. Tolerance can happen quickly and lead to physical and psychological dependence, so “>both drugs are considered highly addictive

Drug Classification

Here’s an area where the two drugs don’t differ. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies drugs into five categories or “schedules.” A drug’s class is determined by its potential for dependency and its accepted medical use. 

Both oxycodone and Percocet are Schedule II drugs.

Schedule II substances have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” They are considered dangerous.

Other examples of Schedule II drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, and Ritalin.

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Pop Quiz

comparing opioidsHere’s a quick quiz comparing oxycodone and Percocet. Don’t worry – you won’t be graded!

Match the following descriptions with the correct drug. (Hint: Some are true for both substances.)

  1. An opioid
  2. Contains acetaminophen
  3. Relieves pain
  4. Is considered addictive
  5. Comes in an extended-release form
  6. Can cause drowsiness
  7. Reduces fever
  8. Is not recommended for long-term use
  9. Tolerance can develop in 7 days
  10. A Schedule II narcotic

How’d you do? You can check your answers below.

And remember, if you’re trying to decide which medication is best for your situation, always consult with a doctor and use the drug only as prescribed.

If you need help with drug abuse, call 844-431-5818(Who Answers?) .

Pop Quiz Answers:

  1. Both
  2. Percocet
  3. Both
  4. Both
  5. Oxycodone
  6. Both
  7. Percocet
  8. Percocet
  9. Both
  10. Both

the Take-Away

These two drugs do have some similarities but, when comparing opioids, they are two distinct substances. The terms “oxycodone” and “Percocet” are not interchangeable.