In the midst of an opioid addiction crisis, it’s important to understand each and every member of a family of drugs that leads to more and more fatalities each year. Overdoses on prescription pain relievers like Percocet take 115 lives per year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about Percocet: what it is, why it’s abused, and some of the harsh realities about addiction to Percocet and other prescription opiates in the United States.
What Is Percocet?
Percocet is actually the brand name for the narcotic oxycodone mixed with a dose of Acetaminophen and acts as a powerful pain reliever. “Percocet” is actually just one of the brand names for the substance, but as the most popular brand, even the generic versions are often labeled as “Percocet” when referred to.
The drug falls into the “opiate” category, along with heroin, morphine, fentanyl, and others, but more specifically, belongs to a smaller class of similar pain relievers with Vicodin, OxyContin, Codeine, and others, labeled as “prescription opioids”.
Although they share a Schedule II classification under the Controlled Substances Act, opioids like Percocet are not as powerful as morphine and fentanyl. For this reason, however, narcotic pain relievers have not been as heavily regulated, meaning that prescriptions for drugs like Percocet have been relatively easy to get, at least until recently.
How Does Percocet Work?
Like other drugs of the same family, Percocet rewires the brain to produce both intended (and unintended effects). To summarize, opiate drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain, suppressing the body’s recognition of pain but also prompting the release of dopamine. Dopamine regulates the pleasure response in the body. After prolonged use, the brain begins to change in that it no longer functions the same without the presence of the drug. This is when dependence begins to set in, following by full-blown addiction.
Why and How is Percocet Prescribed?
As of late 2018, many regions of the United States were still reeling in the depths on a national opioid epidemic. Much of this comes from the origins and subsequent prescribing practices surrounding these dangerous narcotics.
In the 1990s, early opioids like OxyContin were introduced as the “less addictive” alternative to benzos like Valium and Xanax. Today, we know that these drugs are more addictive than their predecessors, and these early claims have been the cause of a number of lawsuits since then.
In the late 90s, prescribing rates for narcotic pain relievers were relatively low and used only in cases where patients were experiencing the absolute highest pain levels. Over the early 2000s, more and more prescriptions were being written for less and less pain, bringing us to where we are today: as of 2017, the prescribing rate had tripled, despite the fact that surveys reflect that Americans didn’t see a notable increase in pain over the same time period.
Today, Percocet is one of a few opioid pain relievers prescribed for moderate to severe pain, both chronic and acute. This includes cases of severe pain associated with diseases like cancers, and pain after surgery.
How Is Percocet Abused?
People misuse Percocet for the euphoria it causes in the user. NIDA estimates that between 21 and 29 percent of the people prescribed an opioid like Percocet misuse it by abusing it or selling it to others for the same purpose.
Because of this high number of misused prescriptions, there’s a large amount of these types of prescription pain pills on the streets at any given time. This does two things in at-risk abusers:
- Percocet abuse continues until the user is addicted to the drug
- The user stops being able to get access to Percocet and moves to more accessible (and more dangerous) drugs like heroin and fentanyl
One result is an addiction that resembles heroin addiction and dependence on other opiates. Opioid addicts typically experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Sleep disorders
- Low blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
Withdrawal resembles the withdrawal from other drugs of the same category as well. Percocet addicts experience the following symptoms when they stop using the drug:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Intense agitation
- Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
Withdrawal from opiates is not generally life-threatening but is known to be one of the more difficult withdrawals in the treatment community. It’s for this reason that trying to detox from any opioid substance without help or medical oversight is unlikely to be successful in providing sustainable sobriety.
Because opioids cause the user to build a tolerance to the sensations they create, users often find themselves needing to take more and more at one time to produce the same effects. Despite the fact that the user feels one dose of the drug less and less with each use, the physical effects of the drug do not lessen. Since opioids depress human respiratory function, this leads to high risk of severe health effects.
One overdose of Percocet is classified as the time that drug use stops the user’s ability to breathe enough to keep them conscious or alive. The combination of high numbers of prescription opioids on the street and relative ease of overdose has contributed to some alarming numbers: as of 2017, 46 people died of overdoses from prescription narcotics like Percocet per day in the United States, according to data from the CDC.
Why Seek Help for Percocet Abuse?
If you or a loved one are abusing Percocet or another member of this family of illegal prescription pain medications, it may seem harmless, but it isn’t. A seeming “habit” can turn into addiction in no time at all, and it can happen to you. Whether you think you have a problem or not, abusing pain pills is never safe or risk-free. If you misuse your own prescription or pills that you acquired from someone else, don’t wait to get help. The statistics surrounding opioid addiction and overdose are dire, and unless you speak to a professional about your issues, you could become just another number.
At FHE Health, we treat addiction to Percocet and other prescription pain relievers with a comprehensive approach, combining proven therapies with counseling and medical intervention. If you or a loved one are struggling with Percocet abuse, contact us today.