The medication Percocet is prescribed to treat moderate to severe short-term pain. Percocet contains a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Oxycodone is an opioid (similar to heroin and opium). The acetaminophen (Tylenol) acts to increase the potency of the oxycodone. Because of its opioid content, Percocet is regulated as a schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and, like all opioid medications, it can be both habit-forming and addictive.
Access to Painkillers is Far too Easy
Prescription drug abuse, particularly abuse of painkillers such as Percocet, is an alarmingly common problem in the United States. An estimated five million Americans regularly abuse prescription pain killers. When taken as prescribed, Percocet simply relieves pain. However, when crushed and snorted or if taken in large doses Percocet has an effect similar to that of heroin. The abuser experiences a euphoric high, accompanied by feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and pain relief.
Safe Alternative to Street Drugs?
Many Percocet abusers view the drug as a safe alternative to street drugs. It’s an FDA-approved prescription drug and most abusers don’t have to seek out drug dealers and engage in illegal transactions, which can make use of the drug seem even safer and more legitimate. Abusers of prescription painkillers report that they most commonly obtain them free from a friend or relative who has a valid prescription for the drug. Some abusers have their own valid prescription for the drug. Only 1.4% buy them from drug dealers.
Consequences of Percocet Abuse
Unfortunately, abuse of Percocet is not safe. It causes health problems and even deaths just as heroin does.
Common problems related to Percocet abuse include:
- Severe constipation
- Mental confusion
- Depression and mood swings
- Erratic behavior
- Impaired work performance
People who abuse Percocet develop a physical tolerance for the drug and need to take ever-increasing doses in order to achieve the desired “high.” As the dose escalates, the risk of a fatal overdose increases. An overdose of Percocet slows down or even stops breathing, causing death. More than 10,000 deaths due to prescription painkiller overdoses occur each year.
Signs and Symptoms to Watch For
It can be hard to spot a Percocet abuser. They often appear to function normally even while on high doses of the drug. The easiest way to notice Percocet abuse is by monitoring the supply of drug. If the patient has a valid prescription, he or she will be using up the supply much faster than the doctor will replace them. If the user is obtaining the drug from others, he or she may struggle to find a sufficient supply as tolerance for the drug increases. A Percocet abuser may begin the descent into addiction by accepting free pills or using a valid prescription, but eventually end up having to lie, cheat, and steal in order to obtain pills. Addicts go to multiple doctors and lie in order to get multiple prescriptions. They steal pills from friends and relatives. Some may resort to buying heroin in order to feed their opioid/percocet addiction.
Withdrawal Can Be Severe
Percocet addicts cannot just stop using the drug when it becomes difficult to obtain. Anyone using Percocet regularly over a prolonged period of time becomes physically dependent on the drug and will experience severe withdrawal symptoms if more drug cannot be obtained. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to be life-threatening, and include:
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms
- Liver damage
Anyone suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms should seek medical help.
A Percocet addiction will eventually destroy the person’s life. However, someone who is addicted to or dependent on Percocet cannot just quit. Addiction is a medical problem, not a lack of will-power or a moral failing. In order to stop abusing the drug, abusers need to seek professional help. The first step in treatment is undergoing medically-supervised detox. During detox, the patient is carefully eased through withdrawal from the drug. Medications are given to relieve the symptoms and medical personnel observe carefully to make sure the patient doesn’t die. In severe cases of withdrawal, the patient may need to be slowly transitioned off of the drug, or placed on methadone maintenance therapy.
After detox, the next step in treatment in a residential Percocet addiction treatment center. At an inpatient rehab, the patient lives in a secure, safe, structured environment. Licensed therapists and professional substance-abuse workers assist the patient in discovering the underlying reasons for addiction, and begin the process of teaching the patient stress management skills, coping skills, and life skills. The patient will participate in group and individual therapy sessions to work through issues contributing to self-destructive behavior. Some patients may require treatment for underlying mental disorders such as depression and anxiety that are part of the pattern of addictive behavior.
Residential rehabilitation treatment can take several weeks. Once the recovering addict has advanced sufficiently, treatment transitions to an aftercare program. The individual returns to normal life, and, assisted by outpatient rehabilitation sessions, continues on the journey to recovery.
If you or a loved one is struggling with dependency on Percocet, seek professional treatment immediately. The disease does not get better on its own, it only gets worse. Don’t wait until a life-threatening overdose or withdrawal event occurs.
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