How does OxyContin work?

OxyContin works to provide pain relief by changing how the brain and body perceive pain. More on how OxyContin works here.

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OxyContin is an opioid medication that contains oxycodone and is used to treat moderate to severe pain. OxyContin affects the body by interacting with opiate receptors in the brain and spinal cord. But does OxyContin have the same effects for everyone? Is OxyContin highly addictive, or not? We explore how fast OxyContin works, how long OxyContin works and how to make OxyContin work better here. Plus, a section for your questions about OxyContin at the end.

How does OxyContin work in the body?

OxyContin prescription dosage ranges from 10 – 80 mg taken to provide around-the-clock pain relief.  OxyContin contains oxycodone, an opium-derived synthetic drug which affects brain activity. Specifically, OxyContin binds to opiate receptors in the brain, numbing feelings of pain. At the same time, however, OxyContin can also cause euphoric feelings, causing you to feel “high.”  Does Oxy show up on a drug test? Yes. Most drug screen panels that test for opiates/opioids can detect OxyContin in the body for 1-3 days in urine after ingestion.

How does OxyContin affect the brain and nervous system?

Oxycodone, the main ingredient in OxyContin, is a pure opioid agonist analgesic. Opioids act by binding to receptors found on the surfaces of certain cells, mostly in the brain. Although the precise mechanism of how oxycodone works is unknown, experts have identified specific opioid receptors in the central nervous system that are thought to play a role in the analgesic effects of this drug. Oxycodone may bind to several different receptors, which may explain some of its unwanted side effects. Some of the possible side effects of taking OxyContin can include:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • euphoria
  • loss of consciousness
  • shallow breathing
  • impaired coordination
  • overdose
  • slowed heart rate
  • nausea/vomiting

The more serious and life-threatening side effects such as slowed breathing are more likely to occur when OxyContin is not taken as directed. Most people taking OxyContin as directed experience only mild side effects.

How fast does OxyContin work

When taking orally, OxyContin hits its peak blood plasma levels very quickly – within just 30-60 minutes. While some people chew the tablets to try to get more immediate effects, this puts them at greater risks for adverse effects or potential overdose.

How long does OxyContin work?

OxyContin is an extended-release medication and effects can last for up to 24 hours. Unlike some other oxycodone formulas, it’s only taken every 12-24 hours, rather than as needed.

What makes OxyContin work better

As a pure opioid agonist, OxyContin provides more pain relief with increasing doses. However, even though there is no defined maximum dose of oxycodone, the ceiling to analgesic effectiveness is imposed only by side effects, the more serious of which may include somnolence and respiratory depression. In other words, the more OxyContin you take, the more likely you are to overdose. This is why it’s important to only increase OxyContin doses with a doctor’s supervision.

Furthermore, OxyContin should not be taken along with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. OxyContin can cause excessive drowsiness, and becomes dangerous when mixed with other medications due to the ADDITIVE effect of other drugs. OxyContin needs to be taken exactly as directed, and not crushed, chewed, or snorted – when it’s taken in any of these ways, more oxycodone than is safe may be released into the bloodstream, leading to a potential overdose. New formulas of OxyContin are supposed to reduce the potential for abuse and overdose.

Does OxyContin work for everyone?

No. OxyContin is not right for everyone. In fact, OxyContin is highly addictive, and may not be right for people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. And some people may experience serious side effects to OxyContin. Plus, there may be other medications you’re taking which prevent you from using OxyContin, so always check with your pharmacist before taking any new medications. Anyone who experiences problems while taking OxyContin should talk to their doctor immediately.

How OxyContin works questions

Do you still have questions about how OxyContin works? Please leave us your questions here. We will be happy to try to answer you with a personal and prompt response.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Impacts of Drugs on Neurotransmission
NINDS: Up close with opioid receptors

ToxNet: Oxycodone
PubMed Health: Oxycodone
DailyMed: OxyContin
FDA Approves New Formulation for OxyContin
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Hello Beth. You risk developing drug dependence if you are taking oxycodone more frequently than prescribed. For exact details on drug use and risks, you can consult with your prescribing doctor or a local pharmacist.

  2. I take oxycodone 30 every 6 hrs as it meds and today I was prescribed oxycontin 30 every 12 hrs for extended meds.
    Is this ok? Is this too much per day?
    I’m a little nervous.

  3. I have stopped taking oxyneo. I was taking 10mg twice a day. How long will it take to get the drug out of my system. I am also taking oxycodine 10mg usually once a daily, twice a day when the pain is unbearable. I have tried Tylenol, Aleve and other arthritis pain killers but they don’t give me any relief.

  4. Can this medication in time geve you Los of memory like oldsamer aka demtial sorry for my spelling ( ps i have use This medication for 3 year or little more . And I have back problem for over20 year I was introduced to this med. I have normal day live only us this medication no alcohol never drink

  5. Hi John. The route by which any drug is administered affects its bioavailability, its psychopharmacological potency, and its likelihood of dependence. Intravenous administration of oxycodone is the most “intense”, effective way to take oxycodone, followed by snorting, chewing (both of which breas the controlled release seal of OxyContin and deliver all of the oxycodone to the system at once) and finally oral consumption of a whole tablet.

  6. Which method of administering oxy hits a person the hardest? Iv? Snort? Chewing? or Orally taken whole? I know some of these methods are very unacceptable but im curious what the actual answer is…

I am ready to call
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