The Difference Between Fast-Acting and Time-Release Pills

The Difference Between Fast-Acting and Time-Release Pills

Prescription painkillers and even over-the-counter medication can release their drug chemicals either slowly or quickly, in either fast-acting and time-release pills. These two different formulas are meant to help people manage pain effectively, but they can also lead to prescription pill abuse, especially for opioids. We’re going to take a closer look at the difference between fast-acting and time-release pills, as well as the dangers they can pose.

What are Fast-Acting Pills?

Fast-acting pills make the full dose of the pill immediately available to the body. While it makes the total dose available, it doesn’t just give one jolt and stop working. Some fast-acting pills can have longer effects depending on how the body metabolizes them. The blood concentration of the drug can often build-up, providing continual relief with just one dose.

What are Time-Release Pills?

Time-release drugs use unique technology to release small amounts of the medication into a person’s system over a long period. The full dose is not released into the bloodstream at once. Instead, the dose is slowly released to stay in the body constantly and provide relief until it’s time for the next dose.

How Can Prescription Pill Abuse Happen with Fast-Acting and Time-Release Pills?

Doctors proscribe opioids in a fast-acting or time-release form.1 Some that fall under this category include:

  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone

While these opioids can effectively treat pain, they can also lead to prescription pill abuse that has deadly consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid abuse in 2019. 2

Instant-release opioids can cause a euphoric high when taken in large doses, which is their main appeal and can lead to people abusing them.

Conversely, time-released pills take longer to affect the body due to their gradual release of the drug. To get around this function, many people skip oral ingestion and instead crush the pills to snort, smoke, or inject the powder. Doing so allows the drug to rush immediately to the brain since it skips the digestive system altogether. The result is in an intense high.

Preventing Accidental Overdose from Prescription Pill Abuse

Drug companies are aware of how people can overdose on opioids and have begun to put naloxone in time-released pills. Naloxone blocks opioid receptors in the brain and prevents any opioid from further affecting the body. 3 This can prevent an overdose. But, not all prescription medication will have naloxone, which is why the danger of overdose remains.

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to include acetaminophen in mild opioid prescriptions to help prevent addiction and overdose. With the addition of acetaminophen, which is less addictive, to provide some relief, the drug needs fewer opioid chemicals to reduce pain. 

But, high doses of acetaminophen can cause irreversible liver damage. In order to avoid liver damage, the FDA now calls for painkillers that include both acetaminophen and opioids to contain no more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen. 4 

Contact Us

At Clearlife Recovery, we can help you or a loved one struggling with opioid addiction or prescription pill abuse. We’ve tailored our treatment services to help you succeed in your battle with addiction. Our detox services will help safely rid your body of the drug that led to your substance abuse problem. Call us today or contact us online for more information on how you can begin your road to sobriety.


[1] A Comparison of Long- and Short-Acting Opioids for the Treatment of Chronic Noncancer Pain:  Tailoring Therapy to Meet Patient Needs (
[2] Opioid Overdose Crisis | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
[3] Naloxone DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
[4] FDA Cuts Acetaminophen Dose In Opioid Painkillers |