Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid with an agonist activity on mu, kappa and delta receptors. Equivalence with regard to morphine is 1:2. Its effect commences one hour after administration and lasts for 12 h in the controlled-release formulation. Plasma halflife is 3-5 h (half that of morphine) and stable plasma levels are reached within 24 h (2-7 days for morphine). Oral bioavailability ranges from 60 to 87%, and plasma protein binding is 45%. Most of the drug is metabolised in the liver, while the rest is excreted by the kidney along with its metabolites. The two main metabolites are oxymorphone--which is also a very potent analgesic--and noroxycodone, a weak analgesic. Oxycodone metabolism is more predictable than that of morphine, and therefore titration is easier. Oxycodone has the same mechanism of action as other opioids: binding to a receptor, inhibition of adenylyl-cyclase and hyperpolarisation of neurons, and decreased excitability. These mechanisms also play a part in the onset of dependence and tolerance. The clinical efficacy of oxycodone is similar to that of morphine, with a ratio of 1/1.5-2 for the treatment of cancer pain. Long-term administration may be associated with less toxicity in comparison with morphine. In the future, both opioids could be used simultaneously at low doses to reduce toxicity. It does not appear that there are any differences between immediate and slow-release oxycodone, except their half-life is 3-4 h, and 12 h, respectively. In Spain, controlled-release oxycodone (OxyContin) is marketed as 10-, 20-, 40- or 80-mg tablets for b.i.d. administration. Tablets must be taken whole and must not be broken, chewed or crushed. There is no food interference. The initial dose is 10 mg b.i.d. for new treatments and no dose reduction is needed in the elderly or in cases of moderate hepatic or renal failure. Immediate-release oxycodone (OxyNorm) is also available in capsules and oral solution. Side effects are those common to opioids: mainly nausea, constipation and drowsiness. Vomiting, pruritus and dizziness are less common. The intensity of these side effects tends to decrease over the course of time. Oxycodone causes somewhat less nausea, hallucinations and pruritus than morphine.