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Percocet vs. Hydrocodone: Comparing Opioid Medications

Percocet and hydrocodone are two opioid painkillers. They share many similarities, although hydrocodone comes in an extended-release form while Percocet (a branded medication) doesn’t. Percocet also contains two drugs: oxycodone (an opioid) and acetaminophen, a less powerful and less addictive painkiller. 

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Understanding Percocet & Hydrocodone

Percocet (a brand name for a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen) and hydrocodone are two different opioids:

How Does Percocet Work?

Percocet’s two active ingredients are oxycodone and acetaminophen. Of these two drugs, oxycodone is much more potent.[1] 

Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller, which works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals, and causing a variety of related effects. It has significant abuse and addiction potential. It should only be used as necessary when other medications that have less abuse and addiction potential cannot provide needed relief.[1] 

Acetaminophen is also a painkiller, but it is much less powerful than hydrocodone and nonaddictive. On its own, it can help to treat low levels of pain and also reduce a person’s fever. 

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

In many ways, hydrocodone works very similarly to Percocet. Hydrocodone binds to opioid receptors in the brain, helping to block pain signals and also causing a sense of euphoria in a user. Like Percocet, it should only be used when weaker, less addictive alternatives aren’t able to provide the necessary pain relief.[2]

Immediate-release hydrocodone has an elimination half-life of about four hours, while extended-release hydrocodone has an elimination half-life of seven to nine hours.[2] 

Comparing Percocet & Hydrocodone

As two opioid medications, these drugs share many similarities, but the chart below also helps illustrate some of their differences:[1-6]

ScheduleSchedule IISchedule II
FormsTabletsTablets, capsules, and oral solutions
UsesTreating moderate to moderately severe painTreating severe chronic pain
Common Side EffectsDry mouth, drowsiness, flushing, headache, mood changes, and stomach painBack pain, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, dry mouth, headache, muscle tightening, ringing in the ears, stomach pain, tiredness, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, foot or leg swelling, and difficult, frequent, or painful urination;
Addiction PotentialSignificant dangerSignificant danger
Cost$2,000+ for 100 tablets without insurance (with generics available for approximately $17.22 for 50 tablets)About 15 cents per tablet
Insurance CoverageTypically covered when medically necessaryTypically covered when medically necessary
Efficacy and SafetyPotent painkiller that can pose a significant addiction and overdose risk if misusedLong-acting opioid painkiller that can pose a significant addiction and overdose risk if misused

Key Differences Between Percocet & Hydrocodone

Some notable differences between these two medications include the following:[1-4]


Percocet contains oxycodone and acetaminophen. It’s also notable that it contains significantly more acetaminophen in all its forms, with the proportionally highest hydrocodone-containing pill composed of 10 mg of oxycodone and 325 mg of acetaminophen.

On its own, hydrocodone is purely an opioid painkiller. It’s also sometimes used in prescription cough and cold medications, which used to be more widely available but have increasingly become more regulated.

Side Effects

As given in the chart detailed earlier, these medications are associated with different side effects at the doses they’re typically prescribed. However, it’s notable that both are opioids, and they fundamentally work in very similar ways. 

A high dose of instant-release hydrocodone is going to work in a similar way to a high dose of Percocet. However, Percocet doesn’t come in an extended-release form (although other oxycodone medications do).

Overdose Risk

Oxycodone is a significantly more potent opioid than hydrocodone. This means that if a person were to take an identical dose of either medication, hydrocodone would be less likely to cause an overdose

However, both medications can still cause an overdose and should only be taken as prescribed. If one took an equivalent dose of one medication or the other, where a user accounted for the potency of the opioid being taken, the overdose risk would be similar between the drugs. 

Use Cases

Percocet is typically used for treating moderate to moderately severe pain, including acute pain, like the kind experienced when recovering from surgery. Hydrocodone is a medication that is usually used to treat severe chronic pain, like that caused by serious health conditions like cancer. This is especially true of extended-release hydrocodone, which is generally only prescribed when non-extended-release options won’t provide the needed relief around the clock.

Both medications, like essentially all opioids, are typically only prescribed when a less potent, less addictive painkiller cannot provide the relief a patient needs. 

Is Either Percocet or Hydrocodone More Addictive Than the Other?

While hydrocodone has a longer-lasting effect, Percocet should typically have a more intense effect on a user. If comparing which is more addictive, there’s an argument to be made that one might be focused on the wrong issue. Both opioids have significant abuse potential especially if misused.[7] 

They also both can lead to opioid addiction. While some opioids are more dangerous than others (fentanyl being a notably dangerous example), any drug from the opioid category should only be taken exactly as prescribed by a doctor.[8]

Updated March 20, 2024
  1. Percocet. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published November 2006. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  2. Hydrocodone. StatPearls. Published January 2024. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  3. Oxycodone. MedlinePlus. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  4. Hydrocodone. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  5. Percocet prices, coupons and patient assistance programs. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  6. Hydrocodone-acetaminophen 5-325 MG tablet. Delaware Online. Accessed February 24, 2024.
  7.  Kosten T, George T. The neurobiology of opioid dependence: Implications for treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives. 2002;1(1):13-20.
  8. Collier R. Street versions of opioids more potent and dangerous. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2013;185(12):1027-1027.
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