Percocet: What is it and How Does it Work?

Last Updated: September 22, 2023

Percocet is a powerful prescription opioid that is often prescribed for the management of acute pain. As an opioid, it carries increased risks of being misused and for the potential of developing a severe substance use disorder. Percocet comes in various strengths from 2.5 to 10mg, and is often found not only at your local pharmacy but also illicitly on the street. The medication, when used appropriately, can be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, due to its highly addictive nature, it is contributing to the growing opioid epidemic in the United States.

What Is Percocet?

Percocet is the marketed name for a pharmaceutical pain reliever combined of oxycodone and paracetamol. The drug was created for the treatment of acute pain and carries a schedule II classification with the Drug Enforcement Agency (one of the highest schedule classifications allowed by law). Other common names for Percocet include:

  • Endocet.
  • Ratio-Oxycocet.
  • Percs.

The formulation of Percocet is contained within four different categories—determined by the amount of oxycodone that is in the medication.

How Does Percocet Work in the Body?

Like many other naturally occurring and synthetic opioids, Percocet works by delivering opioids to the brain’s neurotransmitter opioid receptors (called the mu receptors). When taken in pill form, Percocet dissolves in the digestive track and then is transmitted into the blood stream where it makes its way to the brain. Once at the brain, the opioid ingredients bind to the opioid receptors, creating a sense of pleasure and decrease in pain in the body. It should be noted that Percocet, like all opioids, does not work on the source of the pain, but rather tricks the body into blocking the pain sensitivity.

Can You Become Dependent On Percocet?

As a schedule II narcotic drug, Percocet is considered highly addictive by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Percocet is also labeled with a box warning (as per FDA regulations) that describes the substance as highly addictive when used. Like all opioids, natural or synthetic, the taking of Percocet carries a high risk that your body will become physically dependent on Percocet. Physical dependence is not the same as developing an opioid use disorder, but rather is the body needing to have the substance in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms (nausea, dehydration, tremors, etc.). Unlike other addictive substances, opioids — like alcohol — can be life-threatening in the withdrawal stages, making physical dependence a serious concern for those using Percocet and other opioids.

Percocet And Chronic Pain

It is common for Primary Care Doctors and other prescribers to use medications, like Percocet, to manage chronic pain symptoms. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new prescribing guidelines for these doctors, in order to mitigate the potential risk of long-term opioid use disorders from developing. The guidelines also detail alternative treatments for chronic pain that do not require the use of opioids, and as such carry far less risk of harm. Percocet should be used in the smallest dosage possible, and only for short-term, or acute, pain. If you are prescribed Percocet for pain related issues and have been given more than 7-10 days worth of the medication, consider consulting a second doctor if you have previous addiction issues.

Treatment For Opioid Misuse

Opioid use disorders (OUDs) are a serious, but treatable disease. Like other forms of substance use disorder, OUDs can be treated with a variety of multi-modality treatments such as detoxification, medication-replacement therapies, inpatient residential treatment, and outpatient care. While detox is not always necessary for every form of a substance use disorder, it is highly recommended with OUDs as the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Working with your medical provider to find the appropriate form and length of treatment for your OUD should be the first step towards recovery.

Recovery Success Rates from Percocet Misuse

With the appropriate treatment and long-term recovery supports, many individuals with an opioid use disorder find long-term success. While the first 90-days can be tough, completing doctor’s recommended treatment regimens greatly increases the odds of fully recovering. While every treatment and recovery plan is different, working with your doctor to come up with the best plan for you should be a top priority.

Used with the appropriate caution, Percocet is a prescription opioid that can help manage acute pain. However, prescribers and patients are often unaware of the addictive nature of Percocet, and as such, you should seek the guidance of an opioid use disorder specialist if you believe you may be at risk for Percocet dependence or opioid withdrawal.

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