Percocet is the name of a narcotic painkiller, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Percocet is used to treat moderate to severe acute pain. It is a controlled substance which means it is available by prescription only. It is produced in a variety of strengths, but most forms of Percocet contain between 2.5 and 10mg of oxycodone and 325 to 650 mg of acetaminophen, and both active ingredients reduce pain. Oxycodone, a synthetic opioid, acts on the nervous system to change the brain's perception of pain, while acetaminophen is thought to inhibit certain pain-related chemicals in the body.
While many individuals have benefitted from using Percocet for legitimate short-term pain relief, the drug is abused due to it narcotic effect. In high doses, the oxycodone in Percocet produces a sense of euphoria that is similar to a heroin high. Drugs like Percocet have become known as the "White Collar" heroin, as use of Percocet is less stigmatized than other more hardcore drugs such as heroin. It is also commonly used by heroin and methadone addicts to avoid opiate withdrawal. But just like heroin and other opiates, individuals who use Percocet to get high can easily develop dependence and tolerance to the drug, and the risk of addiction to Percocet is extremely high. Physical and psychological dependence to Percocet may result withdrawal symptoms after as few as 5-7 days of continuous use.
Because of the drive to get more of the drug to satiate cravings and avoid withdrawal symptoms, individuals who become addicted to Percocet and prescription opioids in general will do just about anything to get more of the drug. "Doctor-shopping" is a common practice among addicts, whereby they will go from doctor to doctor with fake ailments in an attempt to get more Percocet. The abuse of prescription opioids like Percocet also results in crime such as pharmacy robberies, thefts, shoplifting incidents, and health care fraud incidents. Due to prescription opioid diversion, many states have introduced prescription monitoring programs and have banned the sale of Percocet over the internet.
Prescription opioids such as Percocet are also widely over-prescribed, a driving factor for the abuse of the drug. The active opioid in the drug, oxycodone is produced en mass, and the International Narcotics Control Board estimates that 11.5 tons of oxycodone was manufactured worldwide in 1998, and by 2007 this figure had grown to 75.2. The United States uses the most oxycodone worldwide, and in 2007 consumed an estimated 51.6 tons of the drug, or 82% of the world total. This means that Americans consume over half a billion 80 mg tablets per year. So it isn't just a problem of illicit abuse, even the legitimate sale of Percocet is big business for drug companies, doctors and pharmacies.
The oxycodone in Percocet is a time-released drug, and some addicts looking for an immediate high may bypass the time-release function and use the drug to get an immediate "high". So instead of just swallowing the pill, some individual will chew it and then swallow it for more rapid absorption in the blood stream. It can also be crushed and mixed into liquids, which can be swallowed or snorted. Some may even go so far as to dilute the Percocet tablets and inject it directly into their bloodstream with a syringe. Administering the drug in these ways is extremely dangerous, and puts the individual at risk of death. Intravenous Percocet users also expose themselves to other risks such as contracting HIV, hepatitis C or B, and other blood-transferrable viruses due to needle sharing.
Individuals who abuse Percocet are also at risk for side effects, some of which can be life threatening. The most typically reported side effects include fatigue, memory loss, constipation, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, headache, anxiety, loss of appetite, dry mouth, abdominal pain, nervousness, and diarrhea. Percocet has also been known to cause impotence, lowered testosterone secretion and enlarged prostate gland. In higher doses, overdoses, or if an individual has not developed a tolerance to opiates, the oxycodone in Percocet can cause dangerously low respiratory rates, bradycardia, clammy skin, hypotension, apnea, pupil constriction, respiratory arrest, circulatory collapse, and death. Oxycodone can also damage vital organs, including the liver and kidneys.
Percocet overdose is similar to that of a heroin overdose and can result in death. Overdose can can to people who have been prescribed Percocet by their physician as well as in people who are illegitimately abusing Percocet. The signs and symptoms of a Percocet overdose are slowed or stopped breathing and other severe reactions consisting of heart attack, heart failure, pulmonary failure, jaundice, liver or kidney failure, amnesia, blackouts, seizures, and coma. An individual who has overdosed on Percocet will become extremely sleepy and may struggle to stay awake. Breathing can become extremely shallow, and may even stop. Percocet overdose is especially likely if the individual has combined the drug with other medications or substances such as cocaine, alcohol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, methylphenidate, barbiturates, or other medications.
Unintentional deaths involving prescription opioids such as Percocet increased 114% from 2001 to 2005. In 2007, the American Poison Control Centers reported 15,069 case mentions and 7,528 single exposures related to oxycodone products, such as that contained in Percocet. The problem is not confined to the U.S., and in 2009 a Canadian study reported a fivefold increase in oxycodone-related deaths in Ontario (mostly accidental) between 1991 and 2007 that led to a doubling of all opioid-related Ontario deaths over the same period.
The problem of abuse of prescription opioids such as Percocet is compounded by the fact that some of these drugs contain other active ingredients which can cause serious physical harm and even death when abused. In high doses, the acetaminophen in Percocet can cause severe liver damage. This is because acetaminophen is processed exclusively by the liver, which can cause hepatotoxicity which can lead to a fatal overdose. This is particularly true when Percocet is taken in conjunction with alcohol, which is fairly commonplace. The mixture can also cause serious damage to the kidneys, liver, and wall of the stomach. This is so the case, that in 2009 the FDA recommended that Percocet, Vicodin, and every other combination of acetaminophen with narcotic pain relievers be limited in their sales because of an estimated 400 acetaminophen related deaths in the United States each year that were caused by acetaminophen overdose and the resulting liver damage.
Once someone is addicted to Percocet it can be difficult to quit on one's own. This is because individuals quickly develop physical dependence to the drug, and experience intense withdrawal symptoms when they miss a dose or stop taking Percocet. Percocet withdrawal symptoms are similar to heroin withdrawal, and just like heroin individuals who become hooked on Percocet feel that they must have the drug every day just to feel "normal". If they don't get their fix, or even if they have the best of intentions and want to quit taking the drug, they quickly begin going through Percocet withdrawal. Withdrawal doesn't just occur in individuals who are using the drug illicitly. Legitimate users of Percocet, who first began using the drug for actual pain, can also become dependent to the drug and find it hard to quit because of withdrawal. It can be a virtual prison. The severity and duration of Percocet withdrawal symptoms can vary, depending on the individual's history with the drug and their dose. Percocet withdrawal can begins within just a few hours from when the last dose was taken. Withdrawal symptoms typically grow more intense over the next several days. Percocet withdrawal typically subsides are symptoms dissipate over a period of several weeks. Percocet withdrawal symptoms consist of the following:
- Abdominal cramps
- Intense pain in the body
- Excessive sweating
- Body chills
- Muscle cramps with spasms
- Goose bumps
- Agitated and aggressive behavior
- Increased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose and eye
- Loss of appetite
Percocet withdrawal, like heroin withdrawal, can be particularly punishing, but it can be overcome with help from drug treatment and medical professionals. A professional drug detox at a drug detox facility or a drug rehab facility can help individuals overcome withdrawal symptoms smoothly, while removing any remnants of Percocet from the body. Doctors and and drug treatment staff can make this process a safe one, and the individual will have all of the support they need to get through it. There will also be less likelihood of the individual relapsing back into use of the drug, because they will be in a drug treatment setting. There will be no access to Percocet or any other narcotics that the individual will surely be craving during the period of detox and withdrawal.
While detox is an important first step, it is only the first step for an individual who has been abusing Percocet. To ensure that the individual experiences a full recovery from Percocet addiction, it is recommended that they follow up detox with the appropriate drug rehab program that will address the addiction. A residential drug rehab program which requires at least a 90 day stay is recommended for individuals who have struggled with addiction to prescription opioids such as Percocet.
Percocet addiction is not as uncommon as you would think, and it is common for individuals to be in denial about their own or someone else's addiction to Percocet and other narcotic painkillers. It is truly an epidemic, and the only solution it to bring the problem into the forefront and offer individuals help. Effective help with Percocet addiction is available today and drug rehabs which specialize in Percocet addiction can assist individuals who want to get off of the drug safely.