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About Percocet (oxycodone and acetominophen)
Percocet®, is the brand name of a tightly controlled pain medication. The tablets contain a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. It is regulated as a schedule 2 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) because it has a high potential for abuse. Physical addiction to Percocet can develop in as little as a week of continuous use.
Pathways to Percocet Addiction
Because Percocet and related pain medications are only available from legitimate manufacturers, many addicts initially take it under a doctor’s care. It is prescribed for severe pain for short-term use. The DEA does not allow refills on this drug – each new supply must have a new prescription. The intent is to require contact with a doctor to get more.
Even with these restrictions in place, some patients develop tolerance (requiring a higher dose for the same effect) and become dependent on Percocet. Patients who start taking it for a legitimate use may then find themselves looking for more outside of their doctor’s supervision.
Another path comes from immersion in the illegal drug community – those who may be taking multiple narcotics or seeking drugs simply for the effects, without any valid medical reason. Percocet gives a feeling of euphoria and well being. It is not as powerful or as fast acting as injectable narcotics (heroin or morphine) but affects the body in a similar fashion.
Percocet Addiction and Supply
At some point, the drug has to be diverted from legal channels for the addict to obtain it. This makes supply a key aspect for abusers. It also leads to the most noticeable symptom, a cyclical pattern of being high and then periods of withdrawal symptoms and drug seeking when supplies run low.
Many addicts will use a mixed narcotic strategy. They may prefer Percocet (or another oxycodone product like Oxycontin) but will take whatever narcotic they can find. This alleviates symptoms of withdrawal. It also carries the risk of overdose when users obtain drugs they are unfamiliar with.
The Internet has recently become a source of supply for prescription narcotics, and some users will purchase any that are available. Some will resort to prescription forgery, doctor shopping, or outright theft to maintain their supply.
Because the amount of Percocet manufactured is known, there is better data on use compared to illegal drugs like heroin or marijuana. A 2004 bulletin by the National Drug Intelligence Center 1 shows that Percocet and other oxycodone containing products have the highest rate of diversion of any class of prescription medications. Diversion occurs when a drug leaves the legitimate supply chain and becomes available to addicts. This includes stealing or buying the drug from people who have legal prescriptions. The same agency reports more than 11,000 deaths from prescription narcotic overdose/poisoning in 2006.
Overdose from Percocet may not be from the oxycodone in the product, but from the acetaminophen it contains. Addicts who need to increase the narcotic they take also get the acetaminophen the pill contains, and the result is possibly fatal liver damage. While they have built up a tolerance to high doses of oxycodone, the ability of the liver to metabolize the Tylenol in Percocet does not change.
photo by Klaus Post