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Since its release on the market in the 1990s, American doctors have prescribed the narcotic Percocet for patients facing moderate or severe pain associated with injury, surgery or dental procedures. The highly addictive properties of one of the main ingredients — oxycodone — however, have turned Percocet into one of the most misused medications on the market. As the American opioid epidemic continues to surge, Percocet is consistently cited as one of the main painkillers contributing to prescription drug abuse and addiction across the U.S.
Table of Contents
What is Percocet?
Percocet is a brand-name prescription painkiller. Its active ingredients are acetaminophen and the opioid oxycodone. While some opioid drugs such as morphine and heroin are developed naturally from the opium poppy plant, oxycodone is synthesized in a lab. Endo Pharmaceuticals purchased Percocet from The DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Company in 1997.
Doctors use Percocet as a painkiller, however, the drug can be so addictive, it is only legally available via prescription. Like other narcotics, Percocet is highly addictive because it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, triggering dopamine release and associated feelings of happiness and euphoria. Percocet is so powerful, in some cases those who begin taking it with a legitimate medical prescription end up developing Percocet addiction.
Opioids like Percocet are also dangerous because of the associated side effects. Percocet is a depressant, which can cause a slowed heart rate, slowed breathing and drowsiness.
What is Percocet Used For?
Doctors prescribe Percocet to patients experiencing moderate to moderately severe pain. According to the Percocet drug label, the medication is only recommended if the pain is severe enough and alternative treatments won’t work. Patients may also require Percocet if they have not previously tolerated or are not expected to tolerate alternatives, or if alternatives have not or are not expected to provide adequate pain reduction.
Percocet is not recommended for patients with:
- Respiratory depression
- Sensitivity to oxycodone
- Sensitivity to acetaminophen
- Hypercapnia, or unusually elevated carbon dioxide levels
- Paralytic ileus, or dysfunctional intestine due to intestinal muscle paralysis
What Does Percocet Look Like?
Percocet is only available in pill form. The tablets have the brand-name imprinted on one side, as well as the number of milligrams of oxycodone. When DuPont still owned Percocet, the pills also had the company name imprinted on them.
The brand-name Percocet drug comes in several different concentrations that all have a unique look:
- 2.5 mg/325 mg – Pink, oval tablets with “Percocet” imprinted on one side and “2.5” on the other.
- 5 mg/325 mg – Blue, round tablets with “Percocet” imprinted on one side and “5” on the other.
- 7.5 mg/325 mg – Peach, oval tablets with “Percocet” imprinted on one side and “7.5” on the other.
- 10 mg/325 mg – Yellow, capsule-shaped tablets with “Percocet” imprinted on one side and “10” on the other.
Important Note: The above descriptions apply to brand-name Percocet pills only. There are many generic forms of Percocet that may look different from the brand-name version.
Those who are involved in Percocet addiction may swallow the pills whole, chew them to increase absorption, or crush and snort the pills for faster entry into the bloodstream. Addicts often hide pills in plain sight in traditional orange pill bottles, but they also hide Percocet in mint tins, candy jars or crushed as a powder.
Proper Dosage Amounts
Percocet is available in several different formulations:
- 2.5 mg/325 mg – The adult dosage is one or two tablets every four to six hours as needed for pain management.
- 5 mg/325 mg – The adult dosage is one tablet every four to six hours as needed for pain management.
- 7.5 mg/325 mg – The adult dosage is one tablet four to every six hours as needed for pain management.
- 10 mg/325 mg – The adult dosage is one tablet every four to six hours as needed for pain management.
Since opiate tolerance is variable from person to person, the maximum daily dose of Percocet is always what the doctor writes for the prescription.
The maximum daily dose of acetaminophen is four grams.
Is Percocet Addictive?
Yes, Percocet is a highly addictive opioid analgesic or opioid-based drug that blocks some but not all pain. Oxycodone is one of two main ingredients in Percocet and is a synthetic opioid — a highly addictive substance. The body naturally creates opioids, which attach to special receptors in the brain and signal certain effects related to feeling and emotion, such as feelings of calmness and reduced pain.
Opioid drugs like Percocet trick the brain into thinking they are natural opioids (endorphins), latching onto the same opioid receptors and flooding the brain with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that causes these euphoric effects. Dopamine is associated with pleasure and signals feelings of happiness but also affects motivation and cognition. While this effect is desirable in order to lessen pain, people can easily become addicted to this “high” and continue using opioids to carry on these feelings.
While some purposefully abuse Percocet to get high, others may develop Percocet addiction even if they are using the drug medically as prescribed by their doctor. In some cases, Percocet addiction develops due to increased tolerance. As a person takes Percocet for pain management, it can soon require higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect. Continuing this habit for a long time can cause dependence on Percocet when a person feels like they can’t live without the drug. Dependence and Percocet addiction often occur at the same time.
For some, it takes even less time to develop Percocet addiction if they are recovering from addiction to another opioid such as heroin or hydrocodone. While most doctors will take a person’s drug use history into consideration before writing a prescription, some circumstances such as an allergy to other pain medications may cause a doctor to choose to prescribe Percocet.
Percocet addiction is dangerous to a person’s quality of life on multiple fronts. The danger of Percocet addiction can affect a person’s finances, relationships, career, education and, most importantly, their health.
Signs of Percocet Addiction
There are various signs and symptoms associated with Percocet addiction. These signs include physical, psychological and other drug-seeking behaviors.
Some signs of Percocet addiction include:
- Losing interest in hobbies or activities
- Asking to borrow money
- Frequent doctor visits
- Loss of appetite
- Excess pill bottles
- White powder around the home
- Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea
Percocet Addiction Statistics
In answering the “Is Percocet addictive?” question, it’s important to also consider Percocet addiction statistics. Since it came out in the 1990s, statisticians have been studying Percocet and its rate of abuse in comparison to the overall opioid abuse epidemic.
Some facts about Percocet and other opioids include:
- The number of prescriptions for opioids has grown from 76 million in 1991 to 240 million in 2014.
- The U.S. consumes roughly 81 percent of the global quantity of oxycodone.
- In 2010, prescription opioid pain relievers were the cause of 16,651 overdose deaths
- Each day in America, more than 3,900 people begin using prescription opioids nonmedically.
- Of all the different pain reliever subtypes, oxycodone products — including Percocet and similar drugs — accounted for 10.4 percent of abuse, only second to hydrocodone products.
If you or a loved one is struggling with Percocet addiction, help is within reach. The Recovery Village® offers personalized programs to treat Percocet addiction and other addictions.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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