There is essentially very little difference between Percocet and oxycodone. Learn about how these drugs work, their side effects, and information about opioid use disorder.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is an opioid drug or medication that is included in a number of different pain-controlling medications, such as OxyContin and Percocet.
What is Percocet?
Percocet contains two pain-relieving drugs. It contains the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug acetaminophen (often found in over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and Anacin) and the opiate drug oxycodone.
Percocet will contain 325 mg of acetaminophen combined with different doses of oxycodone. The levels of oxycodone available in Percocet are 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, and 10 mg.
Acetaminophen is used in several different medications that contain narcotic or opiate drugs. The acetaminophen enhances the pain-relieving effects of the oxycodone in Percocet. It can also be used to control fever and swelling. When physicians prescribe Percocet, they are prescribing a drug that is believed to be more efficient in its ability to control pain compared to just prescribing the oxycodone alone. It also has other potential benefits that may be useful depending on the needs and circumstances of the individual receiving the prescription.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the maximum daily dose of acetaminophen should be 4000 mg. Numerous studies have documented the risks of the chronic use of acetaminophen. At one time, the level of acetaminophen in many prescription drugs could also vary in its strength (e.g., 325 mg, 625 mg, etc.).
However, in 2014, the FDA reported that prescription medications that contain doses of more than 325 mg of acetaminophen were at risk of producing liver damage in individuals who used them. The FDA recommended halting the distribution and marketing of prescription medications that contained more than 325 mg of acetaminophen.
Percocet (Acetaminophen and Oxycodone)
Percocet is an analgesic medication that is classified as an opiate drug; these are sometimes referred to as narcotic drugs. Opiate drugs are all either manufactured from opium that comes from the poppy plant in Asia, or they are synthetic analogs of substances that are derived from the poppy plant.
Oxycodone is an opiate agonist, which means that it readily attaches to specialized neurons in the brain that are involved in the subjective experience of pain and stress, and in some other functions, such as the coughing reflex.
These particular neurons are specialized for neurotransmitters that are involved in our natural ability to experience stress and pain, such as endorphins and enkephalins, and these substances are similar in their structure to opiate drugs. Thus, opiate drugs are very effective pain relievers as they readily attach to these sites in the brain.
The oxycodone component of Percocet is listed as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This controlled substance classification means that this drug does have medical uses; however, it is also a drug that is highly prone to be abused and can result in the development of physical dependence in people who use it on a regular basis for more than just a few weeks.
Drugs in this classification category are at the highest risk for abuse of any of the legally obtainable prescription medications regulated by the DEA. Substances classified in the category above (in Schedule I) are considered to have no known medicinal uses and can only be legally obtained with special governmental permissions. The medications classified at Schedule II to or below require a prescription from a physician in order for them to be legally obtained.
Aside from the addition of the acetaminophen, attempting to compare Percocet and oxycodone is similar to an attempt to compare spaghetti with tomato sauce to spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs. They are essentially the same dish, except one has an added component to it. Likewise, Percocet and oxycodone are essentially the same narcotic drug; however, one has an additional component added to it.
Using Percocet or oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin) results in similar effects. Essentially, there are no significant differences unless an individual has an allergic reaction to the acetaminophen in the Percocet.
According to the book Opiate Receptors, Neurotransmitters, and Drug Dependence: Basic Science-Clinical Correlates, the effects associated with oxycodone use can consist of the following:
The initial effects of the opiate medication most often include:
- Mild feelings of sedation
- Reduction in the subjective experience of physical pain
- Reductions in stress and anxiety
- Increased relaxation
Longer-term effects may include:
- The development of tolerance to oxycodone
- The development of withdrawal symptoms if the drug is discontinued
- Liver and kidney damage, in rare cases
- Changes in the brain that can affect cognitive functions, such as attention and memory
Some people experience side effects when using oxycodone that can include:
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and constipation
- Flushed skin, sweating, weakness, dizziness, and headaches
- Loss of appetite, dry mouth, and problems swallowing
- Symptoms associated with allergic reactions (can be quite varied and may consist of swelling in the tongue, lips, face, or throat; issues with the skin, such as rash, hives, or itching; severe anxiety; and issues with thinking)
- Decreased breathing rates
- Postural hypotension, which is a rapid decrease in blood pressure when a person stands up from a sitting or lying position
- Other changes in heart rate or blood pressure
- In rare cases, seizures
The above effects are listed for individuals who use therapeutic doses of oxycodone or Percocet according to their prescribed instructions. Individuals who abuse Percocet most often use the drug in significantly higher amounts and more frequently than individuals who use it according to its prescribed instructions. Individuals who abuse Percocet are more likely to experience numerous side effects and other issues, and to experience rare symptoms or side effects.
Of course, individuals who abuse Percocet are at risk of developing a formal substance use disorder, which is a psychiatric disorder that often affects every facet of the individual’s life. Individuals with substance use disorders often require lengthy and intensive interventions in order to help them recover.
All of the opioid drugs can be dangerous when used excessively. Individuals who overdose on opiate drugs are at risk for serious brain damage or even death due to respiratory suppression.
Opiate drugs affect every part of the brain and also affect areas of the brain stem that are involved in the automatic functions of breathing and heart rate. Individuals who overdose on Percocet may experience extremely suppressed breathing rates and reduced heart rates that can result in hypoxia (significantly decreased oxygen delivery to tissues and organs) or anoxia (a total lack of oxygen to specific tissues and organs). These conditions can produce significant brain and other organ damage and even death.
Some brief information regarding acetaminophen is also appropriate. Acetaminophen is not considered to be a controlled substance and can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy, grocery store, etc. Acetaminophen is not normally considered to be a significant drug of abuse; however, according to the FDA, individuals can overdose on acetaminophen. An individual who overdoses on Percocet could be overdosing on both oxycodone and acetaminophen. Overdoses of acetaminophen can be quite severe, can produce serious issues with liver damage, and can even be fatal.
The FDA also reports that common side effects associated with acetaminophen include:
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as upset stomach
- Bruising or bleeding
- An allergic reaction to acetaminophen with symptoms like rash, hives, itching, peeling or blistering skin, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the face, tongue, hands, or feet
Symptoms of acetaminophen overdose include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and extreme fatigue
- Other flulike symptoms
- Pain in the upper right stomach area
- Yellowish skin or eyes
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
Anyone who suspects that they or someone they know has overdosed on Percocet or any other drug should call 911 immediately.
Statistical Information on the Abuse of Oxycodone (Percocet)
Agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that collect data on the abuse rates of specific classes of drugs do not typically tabulate abuse figures for different versions of the same drug (e.g., abuse rates for oxycodone versus Percocet). SAMHSA releases some of the most reliable data regarding substance abuse and is involved directly in establishing treatment protocols, controlling prescription privileges, and educating the public regarding the abuse of prescription medications. According to the latest estimates from SAMHSA, in 2015, about 2 million people were believed to have substance use disorders as a result of abusing prescription pain medications.
SAMHSA reports figures on emergency room visits that were believed to be associated with the use of oxycodone up to the year 2011. In that year, 175,229 such visits were formally recorded. The rates of emergency room visits associated with oxycodone increased from 2004 to 2009 and then leveled off.
SAMHSA generally reports that the abuse of prescription opiate medications has declined somewhat in recent years due to publicity, numerous controls on physicians who prescribe the drugs as well as their prescription rates, and efforts to educate the public regarding the potential dangers of abusing the drugs; however, the abuse of opiate drugs remains a major concern.
Diagnosis of an Opioid Use Disorder
An individual who abuses either Percocet or oxycodone and suffers significant impairment, distress, or dysfunction as a result of this abuse would be diagnosed with an opiate use disorder. This diagnosis is one of many different types of substance use disorders and represents a formal mental health disorder that encompasses both the notions of substance abuse and addiction.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, signs of an opiate use disorder consist of:
- Issues with controlling use of opiate drugs, such as:
- Frequently using more of the drug than one had intended to use
- Frequently spending more time using the drug than one had intended to
- Continuing to use the drug in spite of knowing that its use is resulting in detrimental effects to one’s health or emotional functioning
- Spending increasing amounts of time trying to get the drug, using the drug, or recovering from its use
- Frequently using the drug in situations where it is dangerous to do so
- Intending to stop use of the drug or to cut down on use but not being able to do so
- Having frequent cravings to use opiate drugs
- Giving up important activities as a result of one’s drug use
- Failing to fulfill major role obligations as a result of use of the drug (e.g., obligations as a parent, spouse, sibling, etc.)
- Developing tolerance to the drug
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when one stops using the drug or cuts down on the dosage
Only trained and licensed mental health professionals can formally diagnose a substance use disorder or an opiate use disorder in anyone. Any person who suspects that they, or someone they know, have an opiate use disorder should discuss the situation with a mental health professional who is trained in addictive behaviors.
Oxford Treatment Center and American Addiction Centers’ other facilities are staffed with medical professionals with years of experience treating addiction. Some are even in recovery themselves. See what you could learn from our team by calling 662-638-0015.
Individuals who have substance use disorders do not experience what is often referred to as “spontaneous remission.” In other words, these disorders do not just go away on their own without some form of intervention. Individuals with opiate use disorders as a result of Percocet or oxycodone abuse require targeted interventions and professional treatment and care as well as support from family and friends. Treatment should not be limited to an inpatient rehabilitation stay, but should consist of long-term substance use disorder therapy, support group participation, and continuing participation in aftercare programs.