Percocet is the brand name for a drug that contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. Acetaminophen is a low-grade pain reliever, often sold under the brand name Tylenol. Oxycodone is an opioid analgesic, which is also designed to relieve pain, but on a greater level. The combination of both makes for a very strong pain reliever, and a potentially a dangerous one.
Prescribed Use of Percocet
Doctors will prescribe Percocet when a patient is experiencing what is considered to be moderate to severe pain, such as after a surgery or due to an acute injury, such as a broken bone. Percocet is not recommended for long-term use, both due to its side effects - especially sedation - and its addiction potential.
According to the manufacturer, Percocet is very similar to morphine in its addictive properties. The National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center asserts that an individual can develop Percocet dependence within as little as two weeks of first use, especially when it is used in higher doses than prescribed, triggering a euphoric effect.
Some people become addicted even when following their doctor's orders to the letter, because the drug - by design - alters the brain to provide pain relief.
Percocet and similar pain relievers, such as OxyContin, are the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, more than 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers and currently about 15,000 Americans die each year from overdoses of these drugs. Since statistics lump all of the prescription opiates together, it is impossible to obtain Percocet-specific statistics, but it is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in this class.
Most who take Percocet for any period of time will develop some type of physical dependence, which is why it is recommended to taper the drug instead of stopping it cold turkey. However, not everyone who takes it will become addicted - developing a psychological "need" for the drug when it is absent.
There is no way of telling who will be affected before taking the drug, but the risk is higher in those who have an already established pattern of addiction to drugs or behaviors. These individuals should inform their doctor before agreeing to take Percocet to see if alternate treatment can be arranged.
Symptoms of Addiction
If a person experiences sedation or drowsiness while on Percocet, this is not necessarily a sign of addiction. However, if that lethargy turns to a depressive episode, it may be the beginnings of a problem. According to CRC Health, other short-term symptoms of overuse of the drug include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent runny nose
- Increased pain (greater than before initial use of the drug)
Some individuals in early addiction will crush and snort their pills to achieve a more immediate effect. This behavior is very dangerous. An overdose on opiates can lead to a heart attack, seizures, and even death.
An individual who is addicted to Percocet may be able to hide short-term symptoms simply by lying, hiding their pills or avoiding others who may be suspicious. As the addiction progresses, though, the signs will become more obvious. According to Addiction Blog, these signs can include:
- Developing a tolerance (needing more and more Percocet to obtain the same effect)
- Continuing to use the drug when it has severe negative effects on the person's quality of life (such as job loss or relationship difficulties)
At this stage of addiction, the individual exhibits drug-seeking behavior, either lying to the doctor to obtain more of the drug legally, or obtaining it illegally through fraudulent prescriptions or buying the drug on the street. If Percocet cannot be obtained, the addict may turn to other, similar drugs, such as Vicodin or even heroin.
Physical effects of long-term use can include liver failure due to the excess acetaminophen and constipation due to the oxycodone. The longer the use, the greater the tolerance can become, which heightens the risk of an overdose.
Intervention is paramount at this latter stage of addiction. It is essential that addicts seek treatment as soon as possible, as it can be very difficult for them to recover on their own.
A combination of behavioral therapy and supervised withdrawal is recommended. Contacting a drug addiction hotline is a good first step to finding an appropriate treatment program.