Percocet is the brand name of a medication that contains the opioid drug oxycodone.  There is very little difference between Percocet and oxycodone, but both drugs can cause addiction.

How The Two Substances Compare

  • Percocet is a brand name for a medication that contains two different drugs: the over-the-counter medication acetaminophen and the opioid drug oxycodone.
  • Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance that is a member of the opioid class of drugs. It is available in generic forms and in a medication that goes by the brand name OxyContin.

Oxycodone is also found in Percocet.

Why is Acetaminophen in Percocet?

Acetaminophen, a well known over-the-counter analgesic drug that is found in numerous medications including Tylenol, is added to several different formulations that contain opioid drugs.

The mechanism of action for acetaminophen is not fully understood, but it is believed to reduce the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that can lead to swelling and inflammation in the brain or body.

The use of acetaminophen with an opioid like oxycodone enhances the pain-relieving effects of the oxycodone by addressing pain from another angle. It may also address other issues, such as fever (in some cases) and inflammation.

The combination of acetaminophen and an opioid like oxycodone is a very potent pain-relieving formulation.

What are the Doses of the Medications in Percocet?

Formulations of Percocet will contain 325 mg of the acetaminophen and different amounts of oxycodone. The pills may contain 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg of oxycodone along with the acetaminophen.

In 2014, the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended halting the use of doses of acetaminophen in medications that were larger than 325 mg. The maximum dose of acetaminophen taken during the day should be 4000 mg.

Recent studies have determined that taking very large amounts of acetaminophen or using high doses for long periods of time increases the risk of liver damage.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a medication that acts as an opioid agonist, meaning that it attaches to receptors in the brain that are specialized for neurotransmitters that have a similar chemical structure. These neurotransmitters are often collectively referred to as endogenous opioids because of their similarity to opioid drugs.

Endorphins and enkephalins are part of this family of neurotransmitters that naturally reduce a person’s perception of pain, exertion, and stress. They also provide mild levels of euphoria for engaging in rewarding activities.

Other neurotransmitters like dopamine are also affected when an individual takes a substance that produces reinforcing effects. Oxycodone is not believed to have a direct effect on dopamine receptors in the brain.

Using Percocet vs. Just Using Oxycodone

There is very little difference in the effects that occur with the use of Percocet or a drug that contains oxycodone alone like OxyContin. One potential difference is that an individual might have an allergy to acetaminophen, in which case they would not use Percocet.

OxyContin could be preferred over Percocet when an individual develops side effects to acetaminophen products, such as gastrointestinal problems, sweating, dizziness, or increased bleeding or bruising.

Percocet might be called for when a physician is looking for more effective pain control but is not convinced that giving more of opioid medication is the solution.

Acetaminophen can address other issues, as mentioned above, that oxycodone alone may not adequately address.

Which Drug Has a Greater Likelihood to Be Abused?

Acetaminophen has very low abuse potential. Oxycodone can be abused whether it is in Percocet or OxyContin.

The percentage of people who use oxycodone products and misuse them at least once is around 14 to 15 percent based on data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The percentage of people with a prescription for an opioid drug who are eventually diagnosed with an opioid use disorder is around 8 percent.

Ultimately, both Percocet and oxycodone have similar abuse potential since they both contain oxycodone as the core addictive ingredient.

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