Percocet Overdose: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Percocet is a brand-name painkiller formulation that combines the prescription opioid oxycodone with acetaminophen. Percocet is approved for use in managing moderately severe pain, often in association with injury or post-surgery.
This article will discuss the potential risks of Percocet use and misuse, including the risk of overdose and what to do if you think someone is experiencing an overdose.
An overdose is a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 immediately if you think or someone you know is overdosing.
Risks of Percocet Use and Misuse
When monitored by the prescribing physician and taken as directed, Percocet can be a very effective painkiller for short-term use.1
Percocet is not intended for long-term pain management, although some people who have chronic pain conditions receive “as-needed” prescriptions to manage pain.2 Percocet has historically been one of the most widely prescribed narcotic painkillers, as well as one of the most commonly diverted for nonmedical use.3
Like other narcotic painkillers, including morphine and heroin, Percocet use may be associated with a rewarding euphoric sensation, which may reinforce compulsive, problematic use.3
One of the major risks of abusing opioid drugs like Percocet is fatal overdose. Respiratory arrest, and widespread anoxic injury (i.e., lack of oxygen delivery to tissues) can result from opioid overdose.
Fulminant hepatic necrosis and liver failure can result from acetaminophen overdose—an outcome that becomes more likely if the overdose occurs while drinking alcohol, as the threshold for liver injury is decreased.
It is important to know the signs of a potential overdose on either drug, so the person can get emergency medical attention as soon as possible. Call 911 immediately if someone displays these symptoms.
Signs of a Percocet Overdose
Opioids like Percocet can slow or stop breathing. Signs of an overdose on oxycodone, which is found in Percocet, include:6
- Excessive drowsiness.
- Loss of consciousness/passing out and cannot be woken up.
- Muscle weakness/limp muscle tone.
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Widened pupils (as overdose progresses).
- Markedly slowed, irregular, or shallow breathing.
- Respiratory arrest.
- Pale/bluish, cold, and/or clammy skin.
The amount of oxycodone consumed increases the risk of an overdose, especially among people who abuse Percocet, as they may take more than the prescribed dose.
Oxycodone stays in the body for 4–6 hours, and the half-life is between 1.25 and 3 hours. Taking another dose before the first dose has completely metabolized out of the body increases the risk of death.7
Liver Failure from Percocet Overdose
Tylenol is a widely known brand name for acetaminophen. Taking excessive amount of acetaminophen alone or in combination with other substances like Percocet is dangerous and may increase the risk of overdose.
Acetaminophen shows up in a lot of over-the-counter medications. People may be taking these medicines concurrently with Percocet and not realize they are taking too much.
The primary concern with acetaminophen overdose is liver failure, which can lead to chronic health problems if the person survives the damage to this organ.4
Acetaminophen-mediated liver injury is surprisingly common—to avoid toxicity, doctors generally advise patients to not exceed more than 4000mg (or 4 grams) of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period. That’s as little as 8 extra-strength pills per day.4
Signs of an acetaminophen overdose include:4
- Abdominal pain and cramping.
- Loss of appetite.
- Irritability or extreme mood swings.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Percocet
Attempts at reversing a Percocet overdose may be made with naloxone—an opioid receptor antagonist that competitively removes the offending opioid (in this case, oxycodone) from opioid receptors, temporarily-preventing their pharmacologic effects.8
When administered early enough, naloxone can minimize the risks of an opioid overdose, but it does nothing for an acetaminophen overdose (which could require additional “antidote” treatment with a drug known as acetylcysteine).11
How Much Percocet Is Too Much?
The lethal amount of Percocet or amount that could cause an overdose based on the individual and other factors.
Physicians calculate appropriate doses of narcotic painkillers like the oxycodone found in Percocet by measuring morphine milligram equivalents (MME).5 There is a standard safe dose of MME per day, although this can be adjusted depending on body weight, age, other medications being taken, and tolerance developed to other opioid prescriptions in the past.
Doses of 50 MME per day have been found to double the risk of overdose without providing significant pain relief. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 33 mg of oxycodone per day is the equivalent of 50 MME, so it is roughly 1.5 times the equivalent potency of morphine.5
Taking an additional over-the-counter medication, like a cold or flu drug, or medication to relieve a headache, can be dangerous while taking Percocet. After numerous acetaminophen overdoses, doctors have found that the body experiences toxicity after consuming 4,000 mg (or 4 grams) of acetaminophen in one day.4
Taking less than that is extremely important, but that means monitoring how much acetaminophen is in a daily dose of Percocet and limiting over-the-counter drugs, which often contain acetaminophen as an analgesic or antipyretic (fever reducer).
To reduce the risk of an acetaminophen overdose, the manufacturers of Percocet have now limited the amount of the NSAID per dose to 325 mg.1
Additional Risks of Illicit Opioid Use
Percocet abuse can cause serious harm on a long-term basis, and it increases the risk of overdose and death. Purchasing drugs online or through other illicit means puts the person at risk of consuming something that is not what they expect.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. have overdosed and died because fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin, and other potent opioids were sold to them instead of the drug they expected. In 2017, a rash of overdoses involving fake oxycodone led to numerous deaths, as people sought opioids after they could no longer get a prescription through their doctor.9
Finding Treatment for Percocet Addiction
Even people who take opioids as prescribed may need help tapering off this medication safely. People who struggle for a long time with addiction to narcotics may need medical supervision and prescription help from a drug like buprenorphine to safely manage the detox process.
Trying to quit “cold turkey” is seldom advisable in instances of significant opioid dependence or addiction. In fact, it increases the risk of intense cravings, relapse, and subsequent overdose on drugs like Percocet. Medical detox coupled with comprehensive evidence-based therapies forms the foundation of successful addiction recovery.10
At River Oaks Treatment Center, we offer different types of rehab for drug and alcohol addiction and tailor treatment plans to meet the individual needs of each patient.
To learn more about the programs offered at our inpatient rehab facility near Tampa, ways to pay for rehab, or using insurance to pay for rehab, contact us at .
Our admissions navigators are available around the clock to answer any questions and help start the rehab admissions process.
You can also get more information and verify your insurance coverage by filling out this quick and confidential .
If you or someone you love has lost control of their drug use, there is hope. Call us at today.
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