Percocet Addiction and Abuse

The sheer number of different pain medications can become confusing to those individuals outside of the medical community. Percocet is a prescription drug that’s been around for a long time. Although it isn’t front page news like some other opiate-based pain medications, Percocet addiction is still a player in the overall opioid epidemic.

More About Percocet

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a prescription medication that combines the opiate-based drug oxycodone and acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol. The addition of an over-the-counter pain reliever is thought to increase the effectiveness of the oxycodone without the need for patients to take more frequent or higher dosages. It’s believed that this also decreases the risk of becoming addicted.

What Does Percocet Look Like?

When illegal drug use is suspected, family members may find loose pills in pockets or a handbag and wonder what they are. Percocet pills are white, oval-shaped tablets that are available in 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10-milligram strengths of oxycodone with 325, 650, or 700 milligrams of acetaminophen; the strength of each drug will be listed on the prescription as 2.5/325. 7.5/650, etc. It’s also sold under various brand names like Endocet, Tylox, and Primalev. There is a generic Percocet version that’s an oblong white tablet imprinted with 10/325 on one side and M523 on the other.

oxycodone pills spilling on to table

The drug provides fast relief from moderate to severe pain due to injuries or chronic pain conditions and after surgery. Percocet is a tablet that’s taken by mouth, and the effects last about four to five hours. The mild euphoria and relaxation make it an attractive recreational drug with a high rate of abuse. It’s available only by prescription, but the drug is also diverted and traded or sold illegally.

Percocet Addiction and Dependence

Percocet isn’t meant for long-term use, but for treating acute, intense pain that’s temporary and should reduce on its own as time passes. Using the drug as recommended at the proper dosage lowers the risk of Percocet addiction while improving the lives of people needing short-term pain management.

Exceeding the Percocet dosage to obtain a high or abusing the drug by taking it when it isn’t needed to control pain leads to addiction or dependence in some people, especially those who are vulnerable to addiction due to heredity or life circumstances and those who have a substance use disorder.

Factors that contribute to substance abuse include:

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment or having a high -stress career
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Mental health problems
  • Injury, illness, or chronic condition
  • History of risk-taking behavior
  • Peer pressure
  • Low self-esteem

Since the drug is usually prescribed for short-term pain management, there are usually no refills. If dependence occurs during that time, patients might try to substitute a different opiate-based drug. Any use outside of a doctor’s prescription is considered drug abuse. Dependence can also lead to legal trouble or desperate moves like taking other people’s medication, forging prescriptions, or shopping around to different doctors to try to get a prescription.

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How Long Does Percocet Stay in Your System?

Percocet begins to work about 30 minutes after taking it. The dose is usually one pill, taken every four hours, and the half-life of Percocet is about three and a half hours. A Percocet half-life means the length of time it takes for half of the amount of medication to leave the system.

However, that doesn’t mean that there are no effects or that the medication can’t be detected after that time. It can take nearly 19 hours for the entire dose to leave the body, and it can still be detected by drug testing after that. Depending on factors like the weight of the person and the amount taken or duration of use, Percocet can be detected in urine samples for up to 48 hours, in blood tests for 24 hours, or by analyzing hair follicles for up 30 days, provided another Percocet dosage isn’t taken before testing is conducted.

Percocet vs Norco: What’s the Difference?

For some patients with break-through, chronic, or recurring pain, trying different prescriptions until they and their doctor find one that works can become a way of life. When a Percocet pill isn’t working or dependence sets in, they may be switched to a similar drug-like Norco. It’s another type of opioid medication that’s manufactured with hydrocodone instead of oxycodone; both still contain acetaminophen to increase the effectiveness of the narcotic ingredient and address different types of pain.

Norco is similar to Vicodin, which is another hydrocodone-based drug with acetaminophen added. Norco has a higher proportion of hydrocodone, making it slightly stronger than Vicodin, but it’s less potent than Percocet. Outside of the difference in strength and types of opiate, both medications are used to manage acute pain, and both are effective for about five hours on average.

The Hidden Dangers of Percocet

Aside from the risk of becoming addicted to Percocet, there are some hidden dangers that come with use even when the drug isn’t being abused. Mixing Percocet and alcohol is hazardous for several reasons. One of the side-effects of Percocet use is drowsiness, which can increase when alcohol is added to the mix. This raises the odds of losing consciousness or of choking on vomit; side-effects of alcohol and Percocet use both include nausea and vomiting.

Since excessive amounts of acetaminophen and alcohol both damage the liver, toxicity or even liver failure are possible when the two substances are mixed or used during the same time frame. Both alcohol and narcotic pain meds depress respiration, so mixing them can contribute to respiratory distress. There is also a higher incidence of developing dual addictions when mixing two highly abused substances. The risk of accidental injury due to slowed reaction times and the combined effects of alcohol and painkillers is also higher.

Getting Help for Percocet Addiction

Fortunately, there is a range of inpatient and intensive outpatients treatment programs available to help overcome Percocet dependency and addiction. These usually include a combination of medical drug detox and behavioral modification therapies. Supervised rehabilitation has a proven track record of success and a lower incidence of relapse than trying to quit without the support of trained addiction counselors.