Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone) is a medication prescribed to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. This article will discuss the basic features of the drug, its uses, how the drug can be abused, signs of addiction to or abuse of the drug, and treatment options for a Percocet use disorder.
Percocet is a combination of two pain-relieving drugs: acetaminophen and oxycodone. Percocet is available in several strengths, all with 325 mg acetaminophen and with different dosages of oxycodone: 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, and 10 mg.
- The main ingredient in Tylenol
- Often given to treat pain
- Useful in treating fever
- Not a controlled substance
- An opioid medication that is one of many narcotic substances synthesized from the opium poppy
- Similar to drugs such as morphine, heroin, codeine, etc.
- A controlled substance and considered a Schedule II drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, indicating that it has a very high potential for dependence and abuse despite its medical use
The acetaminophen in Percocet is the same active ingredient in Tylenol and similar to other over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It enhances the pain-relieving effects of oxycodone. Although it does not contribute significantly to the abuse potential of Percocet, acetaminophen can cause liver toxicity if it is taken in large doses over a long period of time.
The oxycodone in Percocet is responsible for both the euphoric effects that individuals experience when taking the drug and the physical dependence and abuse potential of the drug. These effects are achieved by the affinity for oxycodone to lock onto certain receptors of endogenous opioid neurons in the brain and produce similar effects to endogenous opioid neurotransmitters. The short-term effects of taking Percocet will typically last 4-6 hours and include pain relief, mild euphoria, and mild feelings of sedation, dizziness, lightheadedness, etc.
A large number of potential side effects have been listed for Percocet. The most common side effects from taking Percocet include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
Some rarer but more serious side effects include:
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears
- Fainting spells
- Extremely shallow breathing
- Significantly slowed heart rate
- Difficulty urinating
- Dark urine
- Upper stomach pain
- Itching (may indicate an allergic reaction)
- Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
- Unusual thoughts
Signs of an allergic reaction to Percocet include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face. Allergic reactions to acetaminophen are sometimes displayed as a skin rash that spreads and causes peeling and blistering. Allergic reactions are rare; however, if one suspects an allergic reaction to Percocet, contact a physician immediately.
As mentioned above, the oxycodone component of Percocet is a controlled substance that is considered to be potentially a drug of abuse and one that can produce significant physical dependence in users. Developing a physical dependence to a drug can be a symptom of an addiction (substance use disorder); however, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to have a physical dependence on any particular drug in order to abuse it or have an addiction to it.
Physical dependence occurs when someone displays two separate symptoms:
- Tolerance occurs when an individual needs to take more of a drug or a higher dosage in order to get the same effects that the drug initially produced. This is a fairly common phenomenon with most drugs and will occur with many drugs that individuals take.
- Withdrawal symptoms occur when the individual’s system has learned to adapt to the presence of the drug in its tissues and cannot function normally without the drug being present. When the person stops using the drug, the levels of the drug in the person’s system drop. This results in a state of imbalance that leads to physical symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, emotional and psychological symptoms, etc.
Nearly anyone who abuses Percocet for a significant length of time will develop physical dependence on the drug, and this will complicate any attempts at recovery. However, the symptoms of abuse and addiction represent the nonmedical use of a drug that results in significant issues with the individual’s functioning, such as an inability to control drug use; personal ramifications to health, relationships, and work; and other issues.
The majority of individuals who use Percocet for pain control and under the supervision of a physician will develop physical dependence if it is used for any significant length of time; however, these people will often not abuse the drug or become addicted to it. Individuals who abuse or become addicted to Percocet most often use it for reasons other than pain control. Most often, but not always, these individuals procure the drug through illegal means, such as buying it on the street, getting it from someone who has a prescription for the drug, etc. Individuals who abuse Percocet typically take the drug for its euphoria-producing affects and will often mix it with other drugs, such as alcohol. Typically, these individuals will start out engaging in occasional use of the drug, and many will begin using it regularly as a coping or escape mechanism.
Some signs that a person might have a Percocet use disorder include:
- Obtaining Percocet via illegal means, such as buying it from someone on the street or getting it from someone who has a prescription
- Using the drug for reasons other than pain control
- Using up a prescription early, asking for more Percocet, or “doctor shopping” to get more than one prescription to the drug
- Spending a significant amount of time using Percocet or recovering from Percocet use
- Taking Percocet in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, other painkillers, benzodiazepines, or stimulant medications
- Needing more Percocet to get the same effect than it used to give
- Becoming very defensive about Percocet use
- Continuing to use Percocet despite experiencing very clear negative effects as a result of use, such as having issues at work (absences or problems with performance), school, and the relationships
- Appearing drowsy, displaying slurred speech, displaying problems with motor coordination or with the reflexes, etc.
- Continuing to use Percocet in dangerous or risky situations, such as while operating machinery, caring for children, driving, etc.
- Experiencing periods of restlessness, irritability, flulike symptoms, or prolonged bouts with constipation
There are a number of treatment options for Percocet abuse. Medical detox is necessary to withdrawal from Percocet, as it is for all cases of opiate detox. Sometimes, replacement medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, are used for a long-term detox process.
Just going through detox will not be enough. Individuals attempting to recover from Percocet abuse or addiction need to engage themselves in a comprehensive treatment program.
The program should include some type of individual or group counseling/therapy specifically targeted at drug abuse/addiction. In addition, treatment for other co-occurring psychological issues/disorders should be available.