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Percocet Addiction: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Percocet is a prescription painkiller, comprised of two notable chemical agents: oxycodone, an opioid narcotic, and acetaminophen, a non-opioid pain reliever.

Because of its active opioid ingredient, Percocet is considered a highly risky, addictive substance. When prescribed by a doctor, and used according to the prescription directions, it can be a helpful medication for those struggling with pain issues, but it is also widely abused.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

The opioid abuse and overdose crisis has been an ongoing problem since the 1990s.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a state of national emergency with respect to the death toll affiliated with opiate addiction. That year roughly 11.4 million people abused prescription drugs recreationally, and almost 130 people died due to overdose on a daily basis.

To respond to the growing health crisis, HHS formed a five-point plan with distinct goals to combat the spread of opiate narcotics. This plan included:

  • Revising treatment services for those struggling with painkiller abuse
  • Improving statistics and public health surveillance on addiction prevalence
  • Funding medical and scientific research into potential surrogates for opiate drugs
  • Improving the performance of opioid reversal drugs to reduce overdose fatality rates
  • Changing services related to pain management

Demographics particularly affected by opioid addiction include Caucasian and African American communities.

Between 2015 and 2016 respectively, the death rate among Caucasian users spiked to 14 deaths per 100,000 people, while African American mortality rates ranked closely behind at 10 deaths per 100,000 people. Native Americans and Indigenous Alaskans followed closely behind at a rate of 8 deaths per 100,000 people, while Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities ranked at 2 deaths per 100,000.

Statistics from the American Society of Addiction Medicine indicated that in 2015, 276,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 were using opioid medications recreationally, with 122,000 of the group already addicted to these drugs.

Percocet’s Role in the Opioid Crisis

Due to its inclusion of the opioid narcotic oxycodone, Percocet is one of many prescription opiate medications that has been used for recreational and personal effects. It was estimated that more than 214 million opioid pain reliever subscriptions were written by health care providers in 2016. 

Oxycodone is notable for altering and increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which has enabled Percocet’s additional use as a mood stabilizer in the past. While it is primarily used to quell pain signals and reduce the experience of pain, it can also result in a euphoric high when abused.

Users abusing oxycodone are notable for transitioning to heroin use further down the line due to the similarities between both substances.

Once an addiction has formed, the person might find it harder to get their hands on Percocet. Though they might start with stealing Percocet or other prescription opioids from family or friends or visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions for opioids, these practices eventually become unsuccessful. Heroin is often cheaper and easier to obtain on the street, so they quickly transition to this opioid.

Addiction affects people from all demographics, but some risk factors can make it more likely that a person will struggle with addiction.

  • A family history of addiction
  • An environment where people are abusing drugs
  • Using drugs or drinking at an earlier age
  • The presence of a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression
  • Stress and other psychological factors

Signs and Symptoms of Percocet Addiction

Abuse of Percocet can be subtle at first, but gradually, symptoms will start appearing in a user’s behavior, psychology, and physiology that will indicate long-term ramifications unless there is an intervention.

Physical symptoms will include:

  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of coherent speech
  • Respiratory trouble
  • Weight loss
  • Decline in motor skills

The severity of these physical symptoms will depend on dosage amounts. Those who use higher doses of Percocet or combine it with other substances of abuse, such as alcohol, will experience more severe symptoms.

Psychosocial symptoms from opioid addiction may include the following:

  • Hostility
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Anger
  • Aggression

As the addiction worsens, these symptoms often lead to individuals isolating themselves from other people, resulting in the potential alienation of family, friends, and employers. Further cognitive impairment will lead to irrational and poor decision-making and an inability to focus, potentially resulting in unemployment and even poverty and homelessness.  

Behaviorally, an individual addicted to Percocet will likely continue to attempt to borrow or steal money, forge prescriptions, and even turn to moderate to severe crime to obtain opiates. Even if they are suffering severe health ramifications, an individual who is addicted to Percocet will likely continue these practices out of intense cravings and fear of withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, the addiction takes over.

Dependence & Withdrawal

With all opioids, tolerance forms fairly quickly with regular use. This means the body grows accustomed to the regular doses, and they stop being as effective. The person will then have to increase their dosage to feel the same effects.

Tolerance happens with legitimate medical use. If Percocet is no longer effective at managing pain, the prescribing doctor may increase the dose or prescribe a different painkiller altogether.

Physical dependence often quickly follows tolerance. The body becomes accustomed to the presence of Percocet and depends on it to function. If the opioid is removed, withdrawal symptoms will present.

These symptoms may occur if the person attempts to stop taking the drug or if they simply lower their dose. The following are common opioid withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Stomach upset
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Sleep issues
  • Shallow breathing

Most often, opioid detox is not successful without professional help. People attempt to stop taking Percocet on their own but quickly return to use due to the discomfort of withdrawal.

Percocet Overdose

If a person does relapse during withdrawal, overdose is likely. This is because their tolerance to Percocet has declined somewhat. If they take their regular dose, it may trigger an overdose.

An overdose is also likely if a person alters the method by which they take Percocet. Some people chew the pills to release all the medication into the system more quickly. Some crush the pills and snort the powder for an intense and quick high. Others crush the pills and mix the powder with water before injecting the substance. All of these methods of abuse may trigger an overdose.

In addition, an opioid overdose is more likely if the opioid is combined with another substance, such as benzodiazepines, stimulants, or alcohol.

Signs of a Percocet overdose include the following:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pinpoint pupils

An overdose can result in death, mainly due to respiratory depression.

If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately.

If you have naloxone, an opioid reversal medication, on hand, administer it. If given in time, naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Further medical treatment is needed since naloxone wears off faster than Percocet.

Medical Detox

Percocet addiction treatment generally consists of medical detox and comprehensive therapy.

In medical detox, an individual has round-the-clock supervision to ensure their safety and comfort. This level of physical and psychological support increases the likelihood that the person will make it through the withdrawal process and proceed into addiction therapy.

In some cases, a replacement medication, such as buprenorphine, will be given. This partial opioid agonist suppresses withdrawal symptoms and decreases cravings for Percocet and other opioids. This allows people to focus on therapy and avoid relapse. 

Methadone has long been used as a treatment for opioid addiction. It does require that patients visit a clinic daily to receive their dosage, and methadone can be abused. 

As a result, buprenorphine is currently the preferred choice of most addiction treatment professionals. It allows for more flexibility since it can be taken at home. 

Though buprenorphine can also be abused, it comes in abuse-deterrent forms, such as Suboxone. The naloxone component of the medication discourages abuse.

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Generally, the dose of the replacement medication is gradually decreased over time until the person is no longer taking it. In some cases, however, the person may use medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for months or even years. 

Therapy

Therapy is the foundation of addiction treatment, and often, behavioral therapy is employed.

Therapy allows clients to address the issues that initially led them to abuse Percocet. They will identify triggers that encourage substance abuse and devise ways to avoid or manage those triggers. They will build a strong support network that provides encouragement and sustenance to stay sober even when temptations arise.

Most addiction treatment programs offer various forms of therapy. They customize a treatment plan according to the unique needs of the individual. This may include a combination of individual, group, or family therapy as well as alternative therapies, such as music therapy, art therapy, or wilderness therapy.

Present Outlook

Despite various intervention efforts, opioid addiction remains a serious problem in the U.S.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services’ National Helpline reportedly received over 68,500 calls per month regarding substance abuse in the first quarter of 2018. This is an increase from 2017, which had roughly 67,900 calls per month.  
Abuse of medications such as Percocet cannot be ignored. With prompt treatment, a person can successfully achieve recovery.

Comprehensive treatment will address every aspect of the individual, starting with medical detox, proceeding to therapy, and following through to the creation of a robust aftercare plan. In recovery, an individual can embrace a balanced life that is free from all substances of abuse.

Sources

(Revised January 22, 2019). What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html

(July 12, 2018). How the Opioid Epidemic Hits Different Demographics. LiveStories. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.livestories.com/blog/life-death-data-how-the-opioid-epidemic-hits-different-demographics

(2019). 7 Staggering Statistics About America’s Opioid Epidemic. Move Forward. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.moveforwardpt.com/Resources/Detail/7-staggering-statistics-about-america-s-opioid-epi

(Updated 4/19/2018). SAMHSA's National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

(2015). Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

Understanding Naloxone. Harm Reduction Coalition. Retrieved February 2019 from https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/understanding-naloxone/

(October 2018). Opioid Overdose. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html

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