Is Percocet Harmful?
When abused, Percocet can be quite harmful.
Percocet is the brand name of a narcotic pain reliever containing a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen (Tylenol) that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. The short-term effects of Percocet last approximately 4–6 hours and include pain reduction, sleepiness and—in some people—a pleasant euphoria.
Oxycodone is a semisynthetic narcotic painkiller from the opiate family of substances. It is the more potent, and potentially problematic of the two analgesic ingredients in Percocet. Oxycodone is responsible for both the euphoric high that is experienced by abusers taking high doses of Percocet and the physical and psychological dependence that can develop in individuals who abuse this medication over an extended length of time.
Acetaminophen is an analgesic and fever-reducing drug similar to aspirin and ibuprofen that enhances the painkilling effects compared to oxycodone alone. Though acetaminophen does not contribute to the abuse potential, it does cause significant liver toxicity when taken at excess doses.
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The side effects are generally similar to the side effects for other opiate analgesics and may include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dry mouth.
- Constricted pupillary diameter.
- Loss of appetite.
- Shallow breathing.
- Drowsiness or sedation.
- Low blood pressure.
- Mood changes.
Rare adverse side effects that may result from taking Percocet and require immediate medical attention include:
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Severely reduced levels of alertness.
- Fast or slow heartbeat.
- Chest pain.
- Uncontrolled vomiting.
- Hives or rash.
- Swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, face, eyes, hands, feet, or ankles.
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
- Seizures or convulsions.
Long-Term Effects of Percocet
Though Percocet and other oxycodone-containing medications were originally used only for acute (short-term) pain, changes in government recommendations and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies have led to a dramatic increase in the use of this drug in patients with chronic (long-term) pain since the 1990s.
Both oxycodone and acetaminophen have long-term effects that need to be carefully monitored by a doctor in patients taking the drug for chronic pain and include:
- Liver damage.
- Kidney failure.
- Severe constipation.
- Urinary retention.
- Slightly decreased testosterone levels in men.
- Physical and psychological dependence.
These long-term effects can be very dangerous for individuals abusing Percocet for recreational purposes (or to self-medicate pain without a doctor’s supervision). For example:
- Liver toxicity produces few symptoms and without blood testing; it may not be noticed by a user until there is extensive damage to this organ.
- Severe constipation is a common problem among opiate users and often requires medical intervention if not addressed soon enough. Bowel obstruction, bowel perforation and peritonitis are just a few examples of the severe gastrointestinal sequelae that opiate abuse can lead to.
- Dependence is an inevitable outcome of extended opiate use and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms and mental distress if the drug is stopped suddenly. For patients, these drawbacks can be reduced by medical monitoring and care, but for abusers this dependence can lock a person into a destructive cycle of addiction.
Effects of Overdose
The development of tolerance means that both legitimate prescription-holders and abusers alike require progressively larger doses over time to achieve the same positive effects of the drug. However, unwanted side effects like liver damage and constipation become more severe as the dose is increased.
Additionally, the possibility of accidental overdose is greatly increased for those abusing Percocet as they take larger amounts of the drug in order to achieve the desired high.
Percocet overdose will include symptoms of both oxycodone and acetaminophen overdose.
Oxycodone Overdose Symptoms
- Excessive sleepiness.
- Slowed or shallow breathing.
- Slowed heartbeat.
- Cold, clammy skin.
- Blue color of skin, fingernails, lips, or area around the mouth.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Acetaminophen Overdose Symptoms
- Intense abdominal pain, centered near or below the right ribcage.
- Dark urine.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).
- Flu-like symptoms.
Acetaminophen overdose can occur especially easily in abusers who take it while drinking alcohol. Death due to an acetaminophen overdose is caused by liver failure and can occur days, or even weeks, after the fatal dose has been ingested. Additionally, those who crush and insufflate (snort) the pills can experience painful irritation of the nasal passages and airways, as acetaminophen has corrosive effects on unprotected mucosal tissue.
Quote from an Addicted Person
“I craved the feeling that I had while taking Percocet because I felt it made me an overall better person. Being a nurse, I had easy access to a multitude of drugs and Percocet was only one of many controlled substances that passed through my hands every night at work in the emergency department. Because of the scrutiny that narcotic counts are under, I had to devise a plan to be able to acquire some without being flagged, and that is when the deceit began. I became preoccupied with obtaining opioids, and patient care took a back burner.”
Source: Journal of Medical Toxicology.
Percocet can cause physical as well as psychological dependence. Dependence occurs as the person receives positive or negative reinforcement to continue using the drug.
Physical dependence is characterized by the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped suddenly.
Psychological dependence due to long-term use may lead to over-reliance on drug for emotional stability or to cope with everyday situations.
Dependence can cause varying degrees of drug-seeking behavior to take place such as doctor shopping or prescription forgery.
How Do I Know If Someone Is Addicted?
Addiction is manifested by signs and symptoms such as:
- The inability to stop using the drug despite negative consequences.
- Obsessive preoccupation with the drug.
- Physiologic tolerance.
- Taking the drug to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- Loss of control over drug use.
- Spending large amounts of time trying to acquire drugs.
- Feeling like drugs are necessary to perform everyday activities.
- Abandoning previously enjoyable activities.
When addiction has taken hold, compulsive use patterns persist despite no medical need.
Drug addiction is a disease that affects every aspect of a person’s life and can occur in any person regardless of age, sex, or race. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that nearly 14 million people in the United States have used Percocet, Percodan, or Tylox for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, putting them at risk of addiction to these drugs.
Lasting Health Effects
Chronic use or abuse of opioids such as Percocet can impact your health and quality of life in other ways. Some of the indirect health problems associated with the long-term use or abuse of these drugs include:
- Swelling in hands or lower legs.
- Immune suppression.
- Sexual dysfunction.
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Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2007 approximately 20.8 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for a substance abuse problem but did not receive help. Prescription drug abusers make up a significant portion of those in need.
Withdrawal symptoms can occur when a dependence or addiction has occurred and the drug is stopped suddenly or rapidly tapered. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, and detoxification in a medically supervised setting is strongly recommended for anyone trying to end their use of Percocet or other opiates. Withdrawal symptoms vary, but can include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Upset stomach.
- Cold sweats.
- Muscle and joint pain.
The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms generally depends upon the severity of the addiction and the level of tolerance and dependence. Generally, symptoms peak on the second or third day and subside within a week or two.
Addiction treatment is delivered in a wide variety of settings using an array of approaches. Treatment may be conducted in places such as inpatient facilities, outpatient facilities or residential settings. Detox centers and rehab centers focus on recovery and learning new patterns of behavior. Treatment modalities usually include individualized therapy, both in individual and group settings, as well as medication therapy.
Check Your Insurance Coverage for Percocet Addiction Treatment
Find out if your insurance coverage includes percocet addiction rehab and treatment by visiting the links below:
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Acetaminophen.
- Doe, J. (2012). My Story: How One Percocet Prescription Triggered My Addiction. Journal of Medical Toxicology, 8(4), 327–330.
- Mayo Clinic. (2017). Oxycodone And Acetaminophen (Oral Route).
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Oxycodone.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). Oxycodone.