There has been significant national and even international attention on prescription drugs, particularly when they are classified in the opioid category. Opioids include prescription drugs used for pain like Percocet and Vicodin, as well as illicit street drugs like heroin. People often have questions about these drugs like what’s in Percocet.
It’s important to educate yourself about these details of these drugs, particularly if you’ve been prescribed one, or you think a loved one who is abusing these drugs.
What is in Percocet? It’s a combination of oxycodone and paracetamol, which is the generic name of a drug found in Tylenol and also called acetaminophen.
Oxycodone is an opioid that is considered semi-synthetic because it’s chemically manufactured but is derived from an alkaloid found in the opium poppy. Oxycodone is considered relatively powerful among narcotic pain relievers and was first developed in Germany in 1917 as a way to improve the opioids that were available at the time.
It is possible to find oxycodone not only combined with paracetamol but also as a single-ingredient medication, which can be prescribed as immediate release and controlled-release versions. In addition to being combined with paracetamol, oxycodone can also be combined with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which include aspirin and ibuprofen.
Opioids, in general, create a euphoric high when people take them and this includes prescription drugs like oxycodone. When you take oxycodone, which is the primary active ingredient in Percocet, particularly at higher doses, you will often not only experience euphoria but also relaxation and general feelings of well-being.
In addition to euphoric feelings, taking opioids changes the way you perceive pain and this class of drugs also depresses the respiratory system because of the effects on the central nervous system.
Opioids have a high potential for addiction and abuse because once you’ve experienced the high they create, your brain’s reward system wants to repeat that stimulus that led to the feeling. Even when people are taking prescription opioids like Percocet, there is the possibility they can become addicted to them.
There’s also the issue of physical dependence with Percocet and other opioids. Eventually, your brain and body start to feel as if the presence of the Percocet is normal, and not having it is abnormal. This development of tolerance means when you don’t take it your body goes into a type of shock. This is why some people experience withdrawal symptoms.
On the other hand, some people can experience a higher sensitivity to pain. This can be explained by imagining how the eye adapts to become more sensitive when there is little light. Pain sensors become more sensitive when pain pathways are blocked by opiates.
Percocet also contains paracetamol, known as acetaminophen. This is a non-prescription and noncontrolled substance that is the primary active ingredient in over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol.
Acetaminophen effects the COX and prostaglandins in the brain, which are chemicals. When someone takes acetaminophen, it impacts these brain chemicals and so the prostaglandins that cause pain are no longer being produced. Therefore, it reduces pain as well as fever but differently than opioids.
When someone takes Percocet, they are getting the pain-killing advantages of both substances. Acetaminophen stops the production of prostaglandins that cause pain and oxycodone relieves pain felt in the nervous system. At the same time, there is a narcotic effect of oxycodone as well as the pain-relieving effects, and this is when the oxycodone creates endorphins that don’t eliminate pain but instead mask how it’s felt. Using Percocet for a long time can cause the body to be tolerant to the drug. As a result, the body will need higher or more frequent doses of Percocet.
So, what’s in Percocet is a combination of two primary active ingredients: oxycodone and acetaminophen or paracetamol. It is a powerful painkiller, but it does have several risks associated with its use as well. In addition to the risks affiliated with opioids in general, the excessive use of acetaminophen can cause liver damage as well.
It’s important for people to know what’s in Percocet before taking it to understand how it works and the risks.
Murray M, Stone A, Pearson V, Treisman G. ”Clinical solutions to chronic pain and the opiate epidemic.” Preventive Medicine. Vol 118, January 2019, 171-175.
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