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How do Suboxone and Oxycodone Differ?

How do Suboxone and oxycodone differ? Well, both are opioids, but they are still quite different. Suboxone is the brand name for a combination product containing the synthetic opioid buprenorphine and the opioid overdose rescue drug naloxone, a semi-synthetic opioid derived from thebaine. Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid also derived from thebaine, although it can also be produced from its close chemical cousin, codeine. That’s not to say that codeine and oxycodone are similar. Oxycodone is far more powerful, some six to eight times more and also has a different effects profile. It tends to produce far more euphoria than codeine does, is more reinforcing and is more addictive. When mixed with other non-narcotic ingredients, codeine is in a lower controlled substance classification group than oxycodone is, whether it’s mixed with non-narcotic ingredients or not. Codeine occurs naturally in the opium plant; oxycodone does not. Finally, codeine is a powerful cough suppressant. Oxycodone is not. There are no prescription cough medications with oxycodone for this reason.


Oxycodone was first created in Germany in 1916 by a chemist looking to find an effective analgesic devoid of addictive potential. The chemist began with thebaine, reasoning that thebaine, a natural substance in the opium poppy with no narcotic effects, would likely produce a non-addictive analgesic. It’s a logical thought, but unfortunately untrue. In fact, the oxycodone molecule and the thebaine molecule are so nearly identical that current legal oxycodone manufacturers deliberately develop and grow opium poppies bred to have high thebaine levels. Oxycodone is one of the most addictive opioids ever created.

Oxycodone is a full opioid agonist, which means it fully activates the brain’s opioid receptors, particularly the mu receptor, which is most associated with analgesia, euphoria, sedation and overdose. An average therapeutic dose for someone with no opioid tolerance is around five to 10 milligrams. This is comparison to codeine’s average adult dose of 30 to 60 milligrams and which serves to show the major difference in potency as well. Moreover, oxycodone has an astronomically high oral BA or bioavailability. This means that up to 88 percent of an oral dose will reach the brain’s opioid receptors. In the United States, oxycodone is only legally available as an oral preparation.


The opioid component of Suboxone, buprenorphine, is technically stronger than morphine. However, it’s only a partial agonist, capable of only partially activating the brain’s mu receptors. This means its ability to produce euphoria is also limited. For this reason, the drug is in the same controlled substance classification as codeine, which is Schedule III.

Suboxone can also be prescribed for pain, but it has limited value when compared to the full agonist oxycodone. There is another key difference here: Suboxone can be prescribed for either pain for opioid withdrawal or maintenance, but oxycodone can only legally be prescribed for pain. This is true of all the full-agonist opioids including methadone. In the United States, no physician can knowingly prescribe opioids for the sole purpose of opioid maintenance. In other words, if your doctor knows, should have known or suspects that you’re addicted to opioids and have no other legal reason to take them, he or she is breaking the law by prescribing them.

The only exceptions are buprenorphine as prescribed by a specially licensed physician or methadone dispensed by a special methadone clinic. This is not true in all countries, however. Britain allows the use of heroin, also called diacetylmorphine, for both pain and heroin maintenance. This is because methadone, although effective for withdrawal symptoms, doesn’t provide the high that heroin does. People drop out of methadone treatment for this reason. Rather than create and foster a black market and cause even more harm, Britain and other mostly European countries have decided to provide pharmaceutical heroin to addicts rather than fight a drug war they can never win. These governmental heroin programs reduce overdoses, rates of HIV and other blood-borne diseases and reduce treatment costs for other drug-related illnesses which are mainly the result of street drug use.

Suboxone isn’t just for heroin withdrawal. Its actions on the brain’s opioid receptors may be able to help anyone addicted to oxycodone or any other kind of opioid as well.

For More Information

If you’re thinking about Suboxone and would like more information, we can help. If you’re struggling with oxycodone addiction, Suboxone may be able to help you get your life back on track. Just call us anytime at 844-903-2111 for a confidential consultation with one of our professional drug counselors. We look forward to your call.