What are the Types of Prescription Painkillers?

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What are the Types of Prescription Painkillers?

Different Pills


Over the past several decades, a huge variety of prescription painkillers have been introduced. While these opiate prescription painkillers can be an extremely effective remedy for those who suffer from chronic pain, there are a variety of different problems that can occur after sustained use. One of the biggest issues that can result from use of prescription painkillers is physical dependence, powerful psychological addiction, and even overdose. Because of this, it is essential to know the different variety of prescription painkillers in order to weigh the potential risks and benefits prior to using them. 


Oxycodone is a powerful mu and delta opiate agonist painkiller. Because of this, it can provide much needed pain relief for a variety of different conditions. There are many different forms that oxycodone can come in. The most famous of these is oxycontin, an extended release form of oxycodone. Percocet is another common low-dose form of oxycontin. Percocet form is mixed with acetaminophen to help increase analgesic effects and reduce abuse potential, as excessive dosing of acetaminophen can severely damage one’s liver.

Oxycodone, like other opiate painkillers, can be very physically and psychologically addictive. According to the National Survey on Drug use and Health, over 2.9 million people in the United States aged 12 years and older used oxycodone without a prescription in 2003. This is a sobering realization, considering this is only one of the many popular prescription painkillers available.


Hydrocodone is often considered to be the pain-killing cousin of oxycodone. Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are created through the chemical modification of a specific alkaloid in opium poppy latex known as thebaine. Like oxycodone, hydrocodone is also a powerful mu and delta opiate receptor agonist, giving it its standard euphoric and analgesic effects. This agonist activity also creates the strong possibility for physical and psychological dependence.

Hydrocodone primarily comes in the form of Vicodin or Lortab, which are both a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. However, a new medication known as Zorhydro ER is an extended release version of hydrocodone. As this new form of hydrocodone has no specific abuse deterrents, many believe this will drastically increase abuse potential of this medication.


Morphine continues to be one of the most well-known and popular prescription painkillers. Morphine is found naturally in the latex of the opium poppy, along with a slew of other opiate alkaloids. The potential for physical dependence of morphine has been well documented. The most popular prescription morphine medications are Kadian and Roxanol, which are extended release and instant release morphine sulphate, respectively. In some cases, morphine may not be the best painkiller as varied enzyme activity between people can reduce or intensify its effectiveness drastically.


Codeine is a mild opiate prescription painkiller compared to all of the rest. However, codeine still carries its own risk of physical and psychological dependence, especially in high doses. Like morphine, codeine is found in high contents papaver somniferum latex, the opium poppy. Codeine is usually used for less serious pain issues, such as tooth pain or mild back pain.

Most commonly, codeine is mixed with acetaminophen and is found in prescription medication such as Tylenol 3 and Tylenol 4.


With the exception of Fentanyl, by dose oxymorphone is the most powerful prescription painkiller available for human use. Because of oxymorphone’s extremely powerful binding activity at opiate receptors, it can be very addictive. Because of extremely variable bio-availability, this medication should never be mixed with alcohol. The most common prescription form of oxymorphone is Opana, an extended release version. Opana is designed with a chemical that creates a gel when it contacts moisture, helping to reduce its abuse potential.

Hydromorphone is very similar in chemistry and action to oxymorphone, although it is slightly less potent. Hydromorphone is commonly found in the prescription form Dilaudid, a fast acting instant-release form. Because it has no powerful abuse deterrents, Dilaudid is commonly used intravenously by drug users.


Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opiate. At over 100 times the strength of morphine, misuse of this chemical can quickly cause overdose and other health concerns. Because the half-life of Fentanyl is fairly short, the most common form of use is a patch placed on the skin.

All of these prescription painkillers can have dramatic positive effects for those who deal with chronic pain. Sadly, the negative potential for overdose, as well as physical and psychological addiction can cause severe problems. Those who deal with regular pain should take caution and care before using these substances.

Anyone who suffers from a prescribed, or non-prescribed, addiction to these medications should seek help through inpatient treatment, as it can help one get rid of the powerful physical and psychological addiction that these medications can cause. Through a quality inpatient treatment, one can regain a normal, functional life.