What Does The Hydro In Hydrocodone Mean

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Fran Says:

Since we learned that "hydro" means water, what does "hydro" mean in the drug "hydrocodone?" All drugs are made with some water, aren't they? A student wanted to know why?
Thank you.

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Verwon Says:

Hello, Fran! How are you?

As explained by the FDA, a drug name is used to denote its chemical makeup and its drug category. The generic name, in this case Hydrocodone, which is an opiate, is chosen by the USAN (United States Adopted Names). There is also an agency to name them in Japan and other countries, though in many cases, they will keep a universal name, if possible.

The actual chemical name of any given drug is far, far too long to use as it's actual name on the market, so what they name it results from a kind of shortening of that chemical name. As an example, here is the one for Hydrocodone as listed by PubMed, a research database…


In some other countries and science categories, these are listed differently and may be even longer.

I think by glancing at that, though, you can see where the Hydro part derives from. When naming it, they also try to avoid choosing a generic name that may be confused with some other drug already on the market… which leaves out the meth, quinoline and etc.

… the codone parts designates it as being in that specific narcotic category, which also includes Oxycodone.

So, it isn't necessarily referring to water, but your student is correct that it does go down to the base chemicals.

Most drugs also have a second name, for instance you may see it referred to as Hydrocodone Bitarate, the last part designates the specific chemical salt that it was actually derived from to create this specific opiate.

Is there anything else I can help with?

I tried to make easy to understand, but please let me know if there's anything you would like me to clarify.

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Doug Says:
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So if it's a SEMI synthetic opiate then it means that it isn't PURELY that substance but has other compounds added to it SUCH as water (H2O) for instance or any other additive that isn't PURELY opiate. Opium that would be sold pure would probably be too addictive and possibly dangerous/deadly if not enhanced with a lesser analgesic such as Tylenol. Would what I just replied be true or am I over complicating the composition of the drug?

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Kris Says:
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Your reply is semi-correct except for a few points. Hydro isn’t referring to water it’s refering to hydrogen (though that too derives it’s name from the same root).
Then at the end you talk about a second name. In this case bitartrate. That doesn’t refer to the salt that the drug is DERIVED FROM. It specifically indicates the salt form that the drug is in! Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both semi-synthetic opioids and are derived from the same source, thebaine.
I’ll be brief here:
Most drugs we take (so things that are active in our body) fall into the broad chemical class of amines. In this case I’m including alkaloids in the larger class of amine. They are derived from or related to amino acids. Here’s one of the key points: they all share the property of tasting very bitter and most of them smell terrible, a lot of them are also not very stable and prone to degrading over time. This is true in their BASE form. We can fix a lot of these problems by stabilizing that pure (base) form of the drug. We do this by converting it to its SALT form. So in this case, hydrocodone is the drug and it starts in its base form. It’s the active drug all by itself. We add another molecule to the mix which we know will easily “stick” to the drug molecule. In this case tartaric acid. When the two join we get hydrocodone bitartrate (bitartrate means, counterintuitively, that there is one molecule of hydrocodone base stuck to one tartric acid molecule which lost one of its hydrogen’s, which makes it slightly negative in one spot so we don’t call it an acid any more. We take tartaric and it becomes tartrate. Tartrate can lose a hydrogen on its other end and it could have two base molecules stick to it, in that hypothetical case it would be called dihydrocodone tartrate. Other acid salts we might recognize are hydrochloric acid which becomes hydrochloride which we just annotate after drug name’s as HCl and sulphuric acid which becomes sulfate, sulfite, sulfide, etc.)
So...most base forms of drugs are an oily liquid at room temp, degrade fast, taste and smell very bad. This doesn’t make a drug which would be easy to take at all. If we add an acid it will form a salt this salt becomes a solid at room temp and forms a crystalline structure which is stable for longer, usually no longer smells, and sometimes doesn’t taste as bad (most amine salts still taste very bitter). It can ALSO make the drug pass into your brain or bloodstream. Some bases won’t cross over into the brain but their salt form will and sometimes the base form is the soluble one and not the salt form.
So it’s not what salt the drug comes from it’s the salt form that it’s IN.

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