Percocet Use and Abuse
Percocet is an opioid medication that is legally prescribed for pain. However, it is also commonly diverted to the illicit drug market, where it has become one of the many drugs contributing to the prescription opioid abuse epidemic. Percocet abuse can lead to tolerance and dependence, which increase the likelihood of addiction.
What Is Percocet?
Percocet is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen that is manufactured in tablet form. It is available in several doses, and is prescribed to people with moderate to severe pain. Percocet is a Schedule II controlled substance due to its potential for abuse, which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. 1,2
People may abuse Percocet due to the euphoria and feelings of relaxation it can cause. This euphoria is a direct effect of the significant increase of dopamine that oxycodone causes.1,2,3
Continued abuse of Percocet, however, may have less to do with feeling euphoria and more to do with dependence. People who are physically dependent on Percocet may experience a number of characteristic withdrawal symptoms, which can begin shortly after the last dose of drug was taken. Although seldom life-threatening, the symptoms can be intensely unpleasant and may persist for up to a week. Many will continue to use Percocet to stave off these symptoms.
An addiction to Percocet – which often develops in parallel with the onset of dependence – is characterized by cravings, drug-seeking behavior, and an inability to control drug use.
Percocet is commonly diverted to the street and abused by those who do not have a prescription. Some common street names for Percocet are:
Methods of Use
People may crush the pills and then snort or inject them.
Percocet is prescribed in pill or tablet form, and the available doses range from 2.5 mg to 10 mg. 1,2
When people abuse Percocet, they may administer the medication in ways that speed up the delivery of the medication and heighten the effects. The most common methods that people abuse Percocet include: 2,3
Crushing the pill and snorting the powder.
Chewing the pill.
Dissolving a crushed pill in water and injecting intravenously.
Combining With Other Drugs
Percocet may also be used in combination with other drugs, exacerbating the risks associated with both drugs. People will use Percocet in combination with another substance either to heighten or to counteract some of the effects of the primary drug of abuse.
Drugs commonly abused with Percocet include:
Combining Percocet with any drug that affects the central nervous system can amplify the respiratory depressive effects of Percocet. Percocet abuse may also lead to severe liver damage, in the case of those co-abusing alcohol. 1
The short-term effects of Percocet make it an excellent pain management drug, but also contribute to its potential for abuse and misuse.
Percocet side effects range from mild to severe and life-threatening. Those who misuse Percocet, and even those who use Percocet as prescribed, should be aware of both the positive and negative side effects of abuse or longer-term use.
The short-term effects of Percocet include: 1,2,3
Sedation or a feeling of relaxation.
Euphoria or heightened sense of well-being.
Percocet can also cause side effects that include: 1,2
- Red eyes.
- Flushing and/or redness of skin.
- Severe itching.
- Ringing in ears.
- Dry mouth.
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
- Lowered blood pressure.
- Gastrointestinal changes, including slowed digestion and constipation.
- Urinary retention – feeling like you have to urinate but unable to release.
- Slowed and/or altered cognitive functioning.
In addition to these side effects, Percocet also puts the user at risk for other, more severe and sometimes life-threatening side effects that include: 1,2
- Depression with or without suicidal thoughts.
- Exacerbation of medical conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Liver failure in alcoholics.
- Impaired kidney functioning when used with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol.
- Respiratory depression and/or difficulty breathing.
Chronic users and those who abuse Percocet at extremely high doses may experience long-term effects that include: 1
- Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped.
- Liver damage.
- Kidney damage.
- Worsening of heart and breathing disorders.
- Increased likelihood of accidental overdose from escalating doses.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
People struggling with substance addiction often exhibit a number of common associated signs and symptoms. Clinicians use these criteria to diagnose a Percocet addiction (known clinically as an opioid use disorder).
The following signs and symptoms are associated with addiction and can help you better understand whether you or a loved one should seek help. 4
You or your loved one uses more Percocet than prescribed or more than you intended to take.
There has been a focus on quitting or you or a loved one has made attempts to quit.
Much of you or your loved one’s time is spent using or obtaining Percocet.
Percocet is used in situations that could be dangerous, without regard to your or others’ safety.
Percocet makes medical issues worse, but use is continued.
Activities are given up, and personal, educational, and/or occupational responsibilities are neglected.
You or a loved one is taking more Percocet than you used to in order to experience the same effects.
When you or a loved one stops taking Percocet, you experience uncomfortable physical or psychological symptoms.
Some signs and symptoms of Percocet overdose include: 1,3
Markedly constricted, or “pinpoint” pupils.
Skin that is cold and/or clammy to the touch.
Cyanotic, or bluish tint to lips, fingernails, etc.
Respiratory depression – breathing severely slowed.
Slowed heart rate.
Low blood pressure.
Profound sleepiness or unconsciousness.
If these symptoms of overdose are severe or persist without proper medical attention, a person can experience more severe symptoms of overdose, including: 1
- Respiratory arrest – a condition where breathing stops completely.
- Cardiac arrest – a condition where the heart stops completely.
If you observe the above symptoms in yourself or a loved one, call 911 immediately or take the person to the nearest emergency room.
Do not assume that a person who has these symptoms “will just sleep it off.” They may look like they are just sleeping and will be fine, but the risk of severe side effects from Percocet overdose, including death, is extremely high. Medical interventions, including administration of the opioid “antidote” drug known as naloxone, can help stop the effects of a Percocet overdose, but the person needs medical attention quickly in order for interventions to be helpful.
More than 28,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014, and at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid such as Percocet.8
Factors that increase the likelihood of an overdose include: 1,2,3
Taking Percocet in different doses or in spans of time that are different than what has been prescribed.
Abusing Percocet if you have pre-existing heart or breathing conditions.
Snorting, smoking, or injecting extended-release forms of Percocet.
Taking Percocet with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other opioids.
Relapsing after a period of sobriety and returning to levels of Percocet that were taken when Percocet was stopped.
Opioid medication is responsible for the majority of prescription drug abuse in the U.S.
Below are some of the most recent statistics on opioids such as Percocet. These statistics help bring to light the tragic effect that opioid abuse has on those who are addicted, their family and friends, schools, employers, and society at large. 3,5,6,7
At least 9% of the population will abuse opioids in their lifetime.
Approximately two-thirds of people who abused prescription medications in 2014 were abusing pain relievers.
1.9% (467,000) of adolescents aged 12-17, 2.8% (978,000) of young adults aged 18-25, and 1.4% (2.9 million) of adults aged 26 and older were abusing prescription pain relievers in 2014.
Opioid pain relievers such as Percocet kill more people annually than heroin or cocaine.
81% of the total world production of Percocet is consumed in the United States.
Opioid medication abuse is responsible for the majority of prescription drug abuse in the United States.
Approximately 14.4% of women who are pregnant will be prescribed opioid medications in the United States. This percentage increases each year.
Babies who are born to women taking opioids can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by high fevers, crying and irritability, sweating, vomiting, seizures, and other symptoms experienced during opioid withdrawal.
The use of opioid medications for non-medical/recreational purposes costs insurance companies more than $70 million each year.
. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. (2006). Percocet.
. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (n.d.) Profile: Oxycodone.
. Volkow, N.D. (2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse. America’s addiction to opioids: Heroin and prescription drug abuse.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Fifth edition. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Medline Plus. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2013). Medline Plus. Opiate Withdrawal.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States:Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose .
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