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Is Vicodin Actually Hydrocodone?

By Marta Manning
The names Vicodin and hydrocodone are often used interchangeably but are they the same thing?

With all the different brand names, chemical terms, and street names, it can be hard to make sense of drug terminology. You may have heard some people call Vicodin hydrocodone but do these two names refer to the same drug?

What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin is an opioid drug often prescribed by doctors for relieving moderate to severe pain. Mayo Clinic reports that Vicodin is often used in patients who cannot tolerate other pain relief medications. According to a 2019 study published in theJournal of Theoretical Biology, Vicodin is the most widely-prescribed pain relief medication in the United States.

But Vicodin is not pure hydrocodone. According to its FDA drug label, Vicodin is a mixture of the drugs hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Each Vicodin tablet contains between 300 and 325 mg of acetaminophen and between 2.5 and 10 mg of hydrocodone, depending on the dosage. 

The two main ingredients in Vicodin work together to deliver high-potency pain relief, according to Northwestern Medicine.

“There are several other branded products that contain the same two ingredients, including Lortab, Lorcet, Norco, and Xodol,” Aaron Emmel, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Also, there are many generic hydrocodone and acetaminophen products. These can all be sold on the street under various representations,” Emmel says. 

Like other opioid drugs, Vicodin has a high potential for abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many Vicodin abusers start out as patients who were prescribed the drug for chronic pain

A 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 5.5 million people aged 12 or older reported misusing Vicodin and other hydrocodone-based drugs in the past year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long-term opioid drug users are at risk of developing substance use disorder and drug addiction.

“Abuse and overdose of [hydrocodone] products can cause similar problems as other opiate medications, causing significant central nervous system impairment and potentially life-threatening respiratory depression,” Emmel says. 

“Importantly, because these products contain acetaminophen, they can also pose [a] risk for causing liver failure. There are several risk factors that increase the risk for overdose. These include use with other substances such as alcohol or illicit drugs, prior abstinence of opioid use (which leads to lower tolerance), pre-existing lung disease or sleep apnea, and being prescribed high doses,” Emmel explains. 

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