Percocet is a prescription opioid containing both oxycodone and acetaminophen. While it is an effective pain reliever, as a Schedule II controlled drug it has a high potential for abuse due to the oxycodone in it. Oxycodone is a semisynthetic opioid derived from an opiate alkaloid precursor. The opioid component of Percocet is capable of inducing euphoric and sedating effects, especially when misused.
Oxycodone has been shown to be powerfully addictive and has long been at the forefront of the prescription opioid epidemic. Those who chronically use (or misuse) this oxycodone-containing drug are at high risk of developing physiological dependence 1.
Acetaminophen—the other ingredient in Percocet—is a white, odorless powder with a slightly bitter taste. Although this pain reliever does not carry an inherent risk for abuse and dependence, the overuse of acetaminophen is associated with cases of liver damage. In the most severe cases, taking excess acetaminophen can lead to acute liver failure, which could result in the need for a liver transplant, or even death 1,2.
Recreational abuse of Percocet can be carried out in a variety of ways. Depending on the method of ingestion, the drug reaches the bloodstream and, eventually, the brain at different rates—affecting the speed of onset and peak intensity of the high. Routes of administration include:
- Oral ingestion.
- Snorting crushed tablets.
- Injection of drug after dissolution of tablets.
Snorting Percocet—or “percs” as they are referred to on the street—can induce the effects of the drug faster than swallowing it, increasing the risk of addiction.
Is Snorting Percocet Dangerous?
Yes, abusing Percocet via any method of ingestion is dangerous. Percocet use should be carefully monitored by a physician when it is prescribed because it has the potential to be addictive even in those taking it as prescribed for pain.
When a user misuses the drug by snorting it, they may more quickly develop tolerance and physical dependence and, ultimately, may be at higher risk of becoming addicted. Again, addiction may develop faster in those abusing the drug in this way because snorting Percocet causes a user to experience a more intensely rewarding rush of euphoria as compared to oral ingestion.
Those who continue to misuse Percocet by snorting may also more easily overdose (for example, when trying to counteract the effects of a fast-mounting tolerance with increasingly higher doses) and may die. Even those who manage to avoid overdose may continue to face the serious physical and psychological consequences of chronic opioid abuse.
While Percocet has a robust list of side effects (shown below), snorting it brings about an all-new set of health risks. Someone snorting this opioid substance may experience 4:
- Nose bleeds.
- Loss of sense of smell.
- Irritation of the nasal mucosa.
- Perforation of the nasal septum.
Snorting Percocet can be especially dangerous if a person is suffering from 1:
- Respiratory depression.
- Acute or severe bronchial asthma.
- Hypersensitivity (i.e., severe allergic reaction) to oxycodone or acetaminophen.
Many people think that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs, but often this is not the case. These drugs are meant to be taken according to the prescription and can be just as dangerous as an illicit drug when abused.
Percocet’s ability to bring about a euphoric high is similar to that of heroin, which helps to explain why it can be so addictive. The high, however, may be accompanied by numerous side effects that range from unpleasant to deadly.
Side effects of Percocet can include 1:
- Blood pressure changes.
- Heart rate changes.
- Increased sweating.
- Itchy skin.
As is the case with other opioids, using Percocet in combination with other substances can result in serious health implications for the user. In fact, when a person uses opioids with other depressant substances such as alcohol, tranquilizers, or other opioids, it can create an additive depressant effect and subject the user to serious respiratory depression, coma, and death 1.
Can Snorting Percocet Cause an Overdose?
Yes. When a person takes too much Percocet they can overdose on the drug. A Percocet overdose poses serious risks, depending on the dose and the user’s tolerance. When a person snorts Percocet, it can overstimulate and overwhelm the brain. Symptoms of a Percocet overdose may include 1:
- Muscle weakness.
- Cold and clammy skin.
- Small, non-reactive pupils.
- Low blood pressure.
- Significantly slowed heart rate.
- Cardiac arrest.
- Profound respiratory depression.
Signs of liver damage from an overdose of acetaminophen include:
- Severe pain inright upper abdomen.
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes.
If you believe that you or a loved one has overdosed on Percocet, call 911 immediately.
Signs That Someone is Addicted
If your loved one is using Percocet and you’re wondering whether they are addicted, you may want to take some time to learn about what addiction is and how it impacts normal brain function. This can help you best support your loved one in their journey to recovery.
Continued opioid use causes changes in the brain that makes quitting much more difficult than simply “saying no”. Physiological dependence develops and leads the user to continue seeking the drug in order to avoid withdrawal. As maladaptive patterns of drug seeking and using develop, the now-addicted individual will continue to compulsively abuse the drug, despite the fact that doing so results in demonstrable harm to a number of facets of life.
As key areas of the brain change in the face of persistent drug use, otherwise normal and healthy sources of rewards (e.g., eating, drinking, socializing) decrease in priority for the user as the drug becomes the most effective way for the brain to experience these good feelings 1 . This is why many of the country’s researchers and addiction specialists view addiction as a process similar to many other chronic health issues—the brain is actually changed by substance use. In this manner, addiction does not reflect a “moral failing” but rather represents a chronic health condition that must be managed with treatment, often indefinitely.
Addiction can bring continuous suffering to both the addicted individual and those that love them. Even in the face of mounting negative effects like worsening health, impaired social relationships, and trauma, the compulsion to seek the high from the drug often overwhelms all else. The difficulty of overcoming an addiction alone highlights the important of drug addiction treatment.
The following warning signs may indicate an addiction to Percocet 1:
- Using Percocet in larger amounts than intended.
- Using Percocet for longer than intended.
- Spending a lot of time trying to buy, use, or recover from Percocet.
- Wanting to stop using Percocet but not being able to.
- Craving Percocet.
- Lying or sneaking around to hide Percocet use.
- Getting defensive when asked about Percocet use.
- Visible nasal damage due to snorting.
- Frequently appearing sedated or drowsy.
- Showing the physical signs of use, including dilated pupils, sweating, or dizziness.
Getting Help for Percocet Addiction
Percocet addiction can be treated with the help of evidence-based practices, including behavioral therapy and medication.
Options for Percocet addiction treatment may include 5:
- Inpatient residential treatment: Residential treatment is an intensive approach to treating your addiction, allowing you to live and receive treatment at the facility. You will live among others who are also recovering from addiction and progressing through a similar recovery journey as you. Treatment programs typically last between 30 to 90 days (longer, if required) and, depending on the program, may offer specific services tailored to your needs.
- Outpatient treatment: In outpatient treatment, you can live at home while you address your addiction. This may be an ideal option if you have responsibilities at home that would make it especially difficult to complete a residential treatment program.
Therapies which may be used in either an inpatient or outpatient environment may include:
- Contingency management (CM): CM is a voucher-based system that rewards you for being drug-free. You earn “points” throughout treatment, which you can then exchange for rewards.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).This is an increasingly common therapy used to address opioid addictions. CBT is designed to prevent relapse and teach you how to identify unhealthy behaviors and destructive thinking patterns so that you can correct and manage them.
Your doctor may also recommend medication as part of your treatment program. If this is the case, you may be prescribed stabilizing medications such as buprenorphine or Suboxone, which can help you relieve cravings and manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. An approach to opioid addiction recovery that has shown success for many individuals is the use of both medication and therapy (not simply one or the other). This approach which combines both methods of care is referred to as medication-assisted treatment.
Withdrawal from opiates is uncomfortable but not life-threatening. If you have developed a physical dependence to Percocet, you will experience withdrawal symptoms after you discontinue your drug use. The severity of your symptoms during withdrawal will depend on your degree of physical dependence. Opioid withdrawal is characterized by some or all of the following symptoms 1.
- Flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, chills, sweating, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting).
- Abdominal cramps.
- Teary eyes.
- Pain in the joints.
- Increased blood pressure.
Detox programs can help you to manage these symptoms so that you can get through them without relapsing and begin your recovery from Percocet in earnest.
If you are snorting Percocet and you need help to stop, call for more information about your rehabilitation options. You can speak with one of our rehab support specialists confidentially about the best way to begin your recovery today.