Oxycodone is a type of opioid narcotic medication that may be prescribed to help manage moderate acute pain in sickle cell disease.

How does Oxycodone work?

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder where abnormal red blood cells become trapped inside small blood vessels. Pain is one of the common symptoms of the disease. This can be in the form of ongoing pain or episodes of acute pain. Acute pain episodes can be caused by a vaso-occlusive crisis, where a blood vessel becomes blocked and blood flow is prevented.

Oxycodone, which is an analgesic or pain-relieving medication, may be prescribed to manage moderate acute pain episodes. It acts to reduce the activity of parts of the nervous system that pass on messages to relay the sensation of pain. It binds to opioid receptors found on the surface of nerve cells. This inhibits the pathways that allow nerve cells to become excited and pass on a signal. With fewer signals being sent, the pain is reduced.

Oxycodone in clinical trials

Barts Health NHS Trust in the U.K. conducted a Phase 2 clinical trial assessing the use of a short-acting form of oxycodone called OxyNorm in combination with sublingual fentanyl (Abstral), another type of opioid, to manage pain in sickle cell disease. The trial, called SCAPE, was intended to determine a safe dose for fentanyl alongside oxycodone and to investigate the effectiveness of the combination treatment. However, the results of the trial have not been published.

A study, published in the Journal of National Medical Association, showed that either long- or short-acting oxycodone (or other opioid medications) in approximately 40 patients reduced hospital visits from between six and 13 per year to one or fewer.

Other information

Oxycodone is available in different formulations. There are short-term acting and extended-release forms that can act over a long period of time. The treatment can be administered through a variety of routes including by mouth or as an injection.

Extended-release forms of oxycodone, such as OxyContin, are generally not prescribed for acute pain episodes but may be used to manage ongoing pain.

Common side effects of oxycodone include dry mouth, stomach pains, drowsiness, flushing, headaches, constipation, and mood changes.


Last updated: Feb. 20, 2020


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