Percocet is among one of the most commonly used and abused opioids.
It’s sometimes mistaken for the oxycodone, which is kind of half right, since Percocet is the brand name for a drug that contains both the opioid oxycodone and acetaminophen (a drug also known as the brand name Tylenol).
The opioid half of the equation helps people with moderate to severe pain, typically following surgery or injury. Extended release options are usually prescribed for chronic pain. The acetaminophen speeds up the effect, providing quicker relief.
Opioids and Addiction
Opioids remain a major problem. Drug overdose deaths may have dipped slightly from 2017 to 2018, but nearly 450,000 people still died from opioid-linked overdoses from 1999 to 2018.
More than 191 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2017, and the three most common drugs linked to prescription opioid overdose fatalities include methadone, oxycodone (found in Percocet and OxyContin), and hydrocodone (found in Vicodin and Norco).
It’s estimated one out of every four people who take opioids as part of a long-term treatment struggles with dependence. Opioids block pain by working on the central nervous system, latching onto opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. The drugs also target the region of the brain that regulates emotion. A feeling of euphoria usually follows taking opioids. The effect is similar to taking heroin, a drug that’s also an opioid. That euphoric high produces a profound impact in the brain’s reward centers, increasing the likelihood of misuse and addiction.
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Opioids block pain by working on the central nervous system, latching onto opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. The drugs also target the region of the brain that regulates emotion.
A feeling of euphoria usually follows taking opioids. The effect is similar to taking heroin, a drug that’s also an opioid. That euphoric high produces a profound impact in the brain’s reward centers, increasing the likelihood of misuse and addiction.
How Addictive Is Percocet?
A combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, the opioid Percocet acts quickly, usually in about a half-hour. A tolerance — where a person needs stronger or more frequent doses for the same effect — can also develop fast. Some people can get hooked in as little as a week or two.
Since Percocet contains opioids and opioids are considered highly addictive, Percocet should definitely be prescribed and used with caution.
Because of the potential to be misused and its addictive qualities, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Percocet as a schedule II drug. It’s in the same category as cocaine, methamphetamine (meth), fentanyl, and Ritalin.
Percocet Side Effects
After taking Percocet, a person should experience reduced pain, and a sense of euphoria may accompany that.
Side effects of taking Percocet may include:
- Extreme emotions (they can be sad or happy)
- Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain
- Constipation signs
Opioids can slow a person’s breathing, causing hypoxia, where too little oxygen gets to the brain. That can lead to coma, brain damage, and possibly death. If a person breathes shallowly or infrequently, if their lips or nails turn blue, or they lose consciousness, seek emergency medical attention.
With the added acetaminophen, Percocet carries other overdose risks. Too much of the analgesic can damage the liver (made evident by upper stomach pain and signs of jaundice.)
Percocet shouldn’t be taken with other medications, except under a doctor’s approval. It should never be combined with alcohol, other narcotics, or sedatives. Some migraine, antidepressant, and Parkinson’s medications also may interact poorly with Percocet.
In the case of an overdose, the drug naloxone (Narcan) may be administered, which reverses the effects of the opioid (including slowed breathing). That’s not a substitute for professional medical help, however. Naloxone’s effects are temporary, so it’s basically buying time until a doctor can step in.
Percocet Addiction Symptoms
Addiction is classified as a chronic disease where an individual continues the drug-taking behavior despite negative consequences, such as risks to health or to one’s day-to-day obligations (job, school, family, or relationships).
In part, addiction is fueled by physical and/or psychological dependence, but also because the way the brain responds to pleasure has been altered, and drug seeking overrides normal day-to-day highlights such as a day at the beach or amusement park, or even the joys of sex. Or chocolate. Or smaller but still significant sources of happiness.
Confusion, mood swings, depression, sleeping too much, or problems sleeping are more apparent symptoms of a possible Percocet addiction. People also may struggle with coordination or constipation.
If a person starts stealing or constantly trying to bum medication off of people, or they start losing their prescriptions or forging them, those are all signs of a problem. Some will visit several doctors or pharmacies to try to keep up with their habit, sometimes taking dozens of pills a day.
Really, any behavioral changes — losing interest in activities, mood shifts, and skipping out on obligations — all are potential red flags.
After tolerance sets in, a person may grow dependent on the drug. That’s when the brain and body have become so used to the substance that a person only feels normal while using. Going without the substance can lead to withdrawal.
Typically, a person becomes physically sick once they stop taking the drug. Often withdrawal symptoms are very similar to flu symptoms and start about 24 hours after the last dose:
- Teary eyes
- Runny nose
- Trouble sleeping
- Yawning frequently
After that, withdrawal symptoms can intensify. Some may resort to using again simply to feel better. (Some, but not all, relapses are spurred by painful withdrawal.) Later stages of withdrawal may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Goosebumps (gooseflesh)
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heartbeat
- Elevated blood pressure
The worst discomfort usually is over after about 72 hours. Getting through that is the challenge. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information and help out there.
Once a person starts working toward recovery the first thing that needs to be done is ensure they wean off the medication safely. Because going clean can be painful, doctors and/or rehab centers monitor a person’s progress and may either suggest tapering the Percocet — gradually prescribing smaller and smaller doses — or giving medications that specifically treat withdrawal, including:
- Methadone, which helps with withdrawal and helps a person better manage life without Percocet (or other opioids).
- Buprenorphine, which helps withdrawal and can decrease the detox time. It also can be used for maintenance, and be combined with naloxone to prevent misuse.
- Clonidine, which helps with anxiety, muscle aches, agitation, and cramping.
- Prescription medications to help slow or stop vomiting and diarrhea, or to help a person get a good night’s sleep.
Other ways to help include self-help support groups, outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient treatment, and residential treatment facilities.
A stay at a rehab center can help people focus on getting sober and devising new and better coping strategies to avoid slipping into reuse, typically via counseling, which can be one-on-one or in group settings, or both.
- healthline.com – Are Oxycodone and Percocet the Same Opioid Pain Medication?
- cdc.gov – Understanding the Epidemic
- cdc.gov – Prescription Opioids
- drugabuse.gov – What Classes of Prescription Drugs are Commonly Misused?
- dea.gov – Drug Scheduling
- uofmhealth.org – Acetaminophen and Oxycodone
- drugabuse.gov – What Are Prescription Opioids?
- cnn.com – What is Percocet? Drug Facts, Side Effects, Abuse and More
- drugabuse.gov – What is Naloxone?
- washingtonpost.com – ‘It Only Took One Pill’: How Addiction Starts
- healthline.com – Withdrawing from Opiates and Opioids
- medlineplus.gov – Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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