Percocet is one of many brand names for a narcotic pain reliever that contains both oxycodone and acetaminophen. Oxycodone is one of the most widely abused prescription opioid pain relievers in existence. A survey of substance abuse among high school students resulted in one in 20 reporting abuse of oxycodone, the American Society of Addiction Medicine notes. Acetaminophen is not typically abused on its own, but often is in this form as well as in other forms that combine it with opioids, like acetaminophen and codeine cold medication combinations.
Percocet’s Addictive Potential
The abuse of any opiate-based drug often leads to addiction. As tolerance develops, the body requires more Percocet to keep achieving the same high it’s become accustomed to feeling. The danger of adverse events increases as the dosage and frequency of use increase.
Acetaminophen is not addictive, but the oxycodone component of Percocet is. Individuals who engage in prolonged use or abuse of opiate-based drugs are the most likely to grow dependent upon them. While these drugs are generally not intended for long-term use, many doctors continue to refill prescriptions at alarming rates. According to CBS News, a review of prescribing practices delivered results that 21 percent of people who received prescriptions for opioid painkillers did so for 3-4 months and 6 percent continued taking the drugs even longer than that.
It’s not hard to imagine someone getting hooked on prescription painkillers. Americans consume a large portion of these medications each year. Many who end up addicted started out taking their own prescribed medication as directed. Over time, they may have grown to misuse the medication, doubling up on doses or using it for nonmedical reasons. The opportunity for this to occur is vast, given the number of prescriptions that are filled for opioid pain relievers like Percocet – 259 million in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Who Abuses Percocet?
So who is abusing these drugs? Sadly, this class of prescription medications has touched nearly every demographic. U.S. News reports one in 10 high school students has experimented with prescription opioid painkillers. PR Newswire reports 16 percent of college-aged individuals in one large survey admitted to using prescription opioid painkillers at some point in their lives.
Among Americans aged 40 and older, 8 percent used an opioid painkiller like Percocet within the past 30 days, per a 2012 survey reported by AARP. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration accounts for 1,469,165 people over the age of 11 being admitted for treatment that same year, and 50,481 cited oxycodone as their primary substance of abuse.
Individuals who are living with mental health disorders are also more likely to develop an addiction to Percocet and other opiate drugs. In fact, some research points to painkillers being less effective for certain individuals who suffer from mental illness. In cases like these, the potential for misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers goes up. Psych Central notes the results of one study in which people with persistent back pain were treated with prescription opioid pain relievers; participants who were affected by high levels of depression or anxiety experienced only half as much pain relief as those who were less affected by said mental health ailments. Researchers also found the affected group abused the medications up to 75 percent more.
Despite these findings, individuals who battle mental illness may be even more likely to receive prescriptions for these drugs than those without mental health disorders. One Journal of the American Medical Association study states 15,676 war veterans were prescribed opioid painkillers within a year following diagnosis of their pain. Among them, 17.8 percent suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, 11.7 percent were battling other mental health disorders, and 6.5 percent weren’t affected by any mental health issues.
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Per WebMD, side effects that come in tow with typical use of Percocet range from nausea and vomiting to constipation and extreme sleepiness. When abused, these side effects can be severely intensified. In addition, most people who abuse Percocet will experience frequent bouts of extreme fatigue that could interfere with their ability to work or keep up with household chores. Constipation and nausea are not uncommon.
There is also potential for respiratory depression. As breathing slows, there is an increased risk of losing consciousness and falling into a coma or dying. The CDC reports around 44 people die in America every day from an overdose of opioid drugs. Those who end up in a coma are at risk for developing rhabdomyolysis – a condition wherein muscular tissue starts to erode and the chemical processes that cause that then inflict damage on other organs. Kidney failure is a common outcome of this condition.
Constipation and diarrhea are both well-known side effects of chronic opioid abuse. Over time, the intestines pay the price for these side effects. Some people abuse Percocet for so long that their bowels stop functioning properly, and they may need to take laxatives on a regular basis just to insure their bowels continue to move and process waste. Others may even suffer from a condition known as narcotic bowel syndrome in which blocked intestines cause constipation, bloating, and abdominal distention that can’t be relieved without medication.
For those who are lucky enough to escape these outcomes, continued abuse of Percocet can and often does lead to addiction and worsened side effects, such as diarrhea, muscular and bone pain, trouble sleeping, restlessness, vomiting, and chills.
Individuals who abuse Percocet for even short periods of time may suffer from lasting damage to their physical and mental health. Opiate abuse actually changes the structure of a person’s brain. It causes dopamine receptors to stop working on their own and interferes with a person’s ability to form and retain memories.
Liver damage is particularly common in cases of Percocet abuse. The liver is the epicenter of filtering for any substance that enters the body. Habitual exposure to the oxycodone in Percocet may cause toxins to build up in the individual’s liver, causing impairment in functioning. There are less common instances in which hepatitis and cholestasis can develop due to swelling of the liver tissue that inhibits the flow of bile. Add to that the damage that is caused by acetaminophen abuse, and it’s a recipe for liver failure. Acetaminophen is actually the top cause of acute liver failure in the nation, Medpage Today reports.
Signs of Addiction
The following signs of addiction to Percocet can serve as red flags that help is needed:
- Finding it harder to get high without taking more Percocet than before – a sign tolerance has formed
- Taking more Percocet keeps withdrawal from setting in
- Becoming preoccupied with making sure one can use again soon and has a supply on hand
- Pulling away from friends and family and missing important events
- Trying to cut back or quit but unable to follow through
- Using even though negative consequences continue to arise from the substance abuse
There are telltale signs that typically stem from serious cases of Percocet abuse that can tip off family members and concerned friends. People who abuse opioid painkillers will often exhibit extreme mood swings and shifts in behavior that aren’t typical of their personalities. This is frequently one of the first warning signs family members and loved ones notice, though they may not always be aware of why it’s occurring. They might also start slacking in the hygiene department. Failing to cut or even wash their hair, avoiding bathing and clipping their nails, or changes in their oral health are all additional signs of substance abuse.
Furthermore, those who are deeply entrenched in Percocet abuse may start to neglect their responsibilities at home or work. They might start behaving in reckless ways, such as using other substances or driving while they are high. It isn’t uncommon for legal or financial problems to arise either. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states an analysis of deaths stemming from drugged driving incidents across six states showed 5.4 percent involved opioids. If someone starts having problems in interpersonal relationships and others are taking note of that behavior, this is also a warning sign that help is needed.
One of the biggest hurdles in seeking treatment is making the decision where to get help and what kind of treatment one needs. There is a treatment plan out there for pretty much everyone. If holistic care is desired, individuals can opt for holistic treatment programs that utilize natural treatment, such as meditation, in addition to more traditional therapies. Medical Daily touts the efficacy of the self-control practice and reveals the results of a study in which cigarette smokers were tested before and after mindfulness meditation practices. Participants showed a 60 percent reduction in smoking after two weeks of regular meditation.
Regardless of which method of treatment is chosen, the commitment to getting better is the foundation for a successful treatment experience, and this commitment often strengthens throughout treatment. Relapse rates for individuals with opiate addictions are as high as 85 percent even after a full year of being in recovery, Cleveland.com notes. Relapse doesn’t mean recovery has failed; it’s simply a sign that treatment should be adjusted.
Much of the damage caused by abusing Percocet can be reversed. When treatment is rendered early on, recovery from acute liver failure due to acetaminophen abuse can be achieve by roughly 66 percent of sufferers, per one Medical Clinics of North America review.
Withdrawal from Percocet doesn’t have to be the painful experience that is often feared. In fact, modern treatment methods now allow individuals to go through medical detox over a lengthy period of time with far less discomfort than previously felt with past detox methods. Today, the standard treatment program for any opiate addiction is a medication management protocol that involves a regulated dose of a medical grade opiate. This process allows individuals to be slowly weaned off Percocet without the trademark effects of withdrawal, such as anxiety, profuse sweating, and goosebumps. By mitigating these withdrawal symptoms, more people may be willing to seek help for opiate addictions. Likewise, medical detox is far safer and more effective than trying to manage withdrawal at home. In fact, going cold turkey fails 95 percent of the time, Wired Magazine reports.
Severe addictions and cases of prolonged Percocet abuse may contribute to a greater risk of adverse outcomes so inpatient care is required. Furthermore, co-occurring psychiatric illnesses may require specialized treatment.
In addition, individuals have to consider the needs of their lives outside of treatment. If they have a family to care for, they may opt for outpatient treatment so they can be home with their family members every night. Also, many people with substance abuse problems are employed, so outpatient care may enable them to continue working while in treatment. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to allow employees up to 12 weeks off for substance abuse treatment in a given year. That being said, many people don’t want their bosses or coworkers to be aware of their addiction issues. For that reason, they often still choose outpatient care.
The location of a treatment center also has bearing on the choice people make. Traveling long distances to and from treatment isn’t ideal for most people. Luckily, opioid treatment options have expanded across the entire nation in recent years, making their services accessible to everyone in need of them. There are approximately 1,400 facilities equipped to treat opiate addiction in America, according to SAMHSA.
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Budget is also a factor in the treatment selection process. The cost of treating an addiction to Percocet can run well into the thousands of dollars, per NIDA. Fortunately, many facilities accept insurance policies as a form of payment. The Affordable Care Act requires that policies offered under the government umbrella cover substance abuse treatment services. The same demands are now made for coverage of mental health care, too. As a direct result of the ACA, Medicaid has now expanded in 31 states, the State Reforum reports. This has opened the door for treatment to many who otherwise would not have been able to afford it. As of 2014, it was estimated that around 14.6 percent of people who would be affected by these expansions were suffering from substance use disorders, compared to 11.5 percent of the same population before the expansion, according to Medicaid. The addition of these new insurance policies aided in insuring some 16.9 million people between September 2013 and February 2015, per the RAND Corporation.
While insurance can greatly offset the cost of addiction treatment, out-of-pocket expenses are generally incurred as well. Treatment facilities can help prospective clients check their insurance policies so they have a clear idea of how much they will be expected to pay out of pocket. If clients are unable to pay outright for uncovered services, payment plans are often available.
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Percocet addiction, like all opiate addictions, can bring about serious effects – in the health, career, legal, financial, and relationship realms – if left untreated. Thankfully, comprehensive addiction treatment can help those struggling with Percocet addiction to leave behind the drug for good. Through medical detox and intensive therapy, individuals can stop abusing Percocet for good and learn how to embrace healthy, fulfilling lives that are not defined by substance abuse.