Percocet is combination drug, made up of the semisynthetic opioid narcotic oxycodone and the over-the-counter analgesic acetaminophen. Oxycodone is a prescription-strength painkiller with a long history of diversion, abuse, and addiction; it is therefore classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Percocet is a tablet formulated in several different strengths, and it’s prescribed to treat moderate to significant pain. Due to the high abuse and addiction rates of this drug, the prescribing information for Percocet states that this product is generally reserved for use in those who are already opioid-tolerant or who may not obtain relief from alternative methods.

Opioid abuse is a global epidemic. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioid drugs worldwide. These drugs impact brain chemistry and create a desirable, pleasurable, and relaxing “high,” making them extremely addictive.

Opioid overdose rates are at an all-time high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose, including from both prescription opioids and heroin. Thankfully, addiction involving opioids is a treatable disease. With a combination of pharmacological, supportive, and behavioral treatments, provided by highly trained professionals in a specialized facility, the chances of long-term recovery are enhanced.

Abuse of Percocet

As a powerful narcotic, Percocet works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, thus blocking pain sensations. It also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain and depresses functions of the central nervous system. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure, and opioid drugs like Percocet interfere with normal levels, creating a euphoric high when the drug is abused.

  • Parts of the brain that work to control impulses, impact learning and memory functions, and process how a person feels rewarded are all affected by the drug’s presence. Anxiety, stress, muscle tension, pain sensations, breathing, pulse, body temperature, and blood pressure are all lowered by the interaction of Percocet in the body and brain. Percocet can make a person feel less inhibited, more social, and mellow. In short, Percocet makes a person feel good, making it a target for abuse.

    Individuals may start out with a legitimate prescription for Percocet after an injury or medical procedure and develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug, leading them to seek it out beyond medical necessity. They may go “doctor shopping” and try to get multiple Percocet prescriptions from multiple doctors, use the drug in higher amounts than prescribed, exaggerate symptoms to get more, or use the drug after they no longer need it. Percocet may also be abused recreationally by those without a prescription or medical need for the drug.

  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) reports that close to 4.5 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in the month prior to the 2014 survey, with the largest percentage of those abusing these drugs being between the age of 18 and 25. On an average day in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that nearly 4,000 people will start abusing a prescription opioid.

    When prescription drugs are abused, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that more than half the time, they are obtained from a relative or friend for free. Anytime someone uses Percocet without a medical need and legitimate prescription for the drug, it is a form of drug abuse that can lead to many potential consequences.

Recognizing Addiction Involving Percocet

Since Percocet interferes with brain chemistry and makes a person feel happy, relaxed, and free from pain, it is often sought out as a method of self-medication for coping with stress, medical problems, or mental health issues.

Opioid abuse has many unintended consequences, on both a short-term and long-term basis. The CDC reports that over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the abuse of prescription opioids every day. More than 150,000 people were treated in an ED for the misuse of an oxycodone product like Percocet in 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) publishes.

Drug overdose is a real concern, as around 20,000 people died from a prescription opioid overdose in 2015, NIDA warns. An overdose on Percocet is signified by respiratory distress, clammy skin, sedation and a possible loss of consciousness, and pinpoint pupils. Crushing or chewing Percocet increases the risk for overdose, as does mixing it with other drugs or alcohol.

Using Percocet more than once or twice can cause a person to build up a tolerance to the drug, which encourages them to increase dosage levels. Taking Percocet in higher doses more often can quickly lead to dependence. When a dependence has formed, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as drug cravings, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and flu-like symptoms, are common when use of the drug is stopped. It may also be difficult for a person to feel pleasure without Percocet. Oftentimes, users may continue taking Percocet in an effort to avoid withdrawal, and this behavior can quickly progress to addiction.

The following are signs of addiction:

  • Inability to control amount of Percocet taken at once and how often it is taken
  • Altering the drug in any way (e.g., crushing or chewing the tablets)
  • Multiple attempts to stop taking the drug that are unsuccessful
  • Engaging in out-of-character and risk-taking behaviors as a result of Percocet use
  • Withdrawal from normal social groups and loved ones; potential social isolation
  • Secrecy surrounding drug use and actions
  • Loss of interest in anything not related to obtaining, taking, or recovering from the drug
  • Using Percocet in situations that are deemed dangerous
  • Continued use of Percocet even when aware that it will have multiple negative consequences
  • Needing to take more Percocet with each dose (tolerance)
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms when drug wears off (dependence)
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Disrupted sleep patterns and poor personal hygiene
  • Neglect of regular obligations, like school, work, and family-related responsibilities
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems or run-ins with law enforcement

Addiction is a brain disease with many negative ramifications and consequences, spreading across all aspects of a person’s life. It is also highly treatable.

Treatment and Therapies for Addiction Involving Percocet

  • Addiction involving Percocet is often treated with medical detox first, to manage and counteract potentially significant withdrawal symptoms, and then followed with an outpatient or residential treatment program. Medical detox helps a person to safely process Percocet out of the body, often with the use of substitution medications like long-acting opioid agonists, such as methadone or buprenorphine.

    Once a person has been deemed physically stable during medical detox, they will move into a treatment program that is designed specifically to promote their individual recovery. Some may benefit best with a comprehensive inpatient, or residential program where they remain on site for a period of time to receive the highest level of care and support. Others may participate in an outpatient program where they reside at home while undergoing treatment.

  • Behavioral therapies are an integral part of Percocet addiction treatment. One such method, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps people to explore the way they think and identify thought processes that may lead to negative and destructive behaviors. These thoughts are then positively modified to alter the subsequent behaviors. Triggers for substance use are defined, and coping mechanisms are designed to manage those triggers. New life skills are taught in group sessions and further enhanced through individual sessions.

    Co-occurring mental health issues like depression and anxiety can be treated simultaneously and in an integrated fashion during addiction treatment. Support groups and 12-Step programs like Narcotics Anonymous are beneficial in providing ongoing support to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety through the formation of engaging and healthy social networks.

In Summary

As a powerful narcotic and opioid pain reliever, Percocet is often abused for its euphoric and relaxing effects. Dependence to the drug can form relatively easily and lead to addiction and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors.

Young adults abuse Percocet the most; however, opioid painkillers are abused by every age group, gender, and race in an effort to escape pain, manage stress, or get high. Percocet may be ingested, injected, snorted, or smoked, and its abuse carries a high risk for overdose and long-term problems like addiction.

Addiction involving Percocet is optimally treated through a comprehensive addiction treatment program that addresses each client’s individual needs. When dependence has formed, medical detox is often necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings while the drug is safely processed out of the body. Detox is not a standalone treatment, however, and it should be closely followed with a comprehensive treatment program that will likely include therapies, counseling, education, life skills training, and support group meetings as part of the complete package.