There’s nothing new or surprising about prescription drug abuse. The National Safety Council calls prescription drugs “America’s most fatally abused drugs.”
So it should not come as a shock that Percocet, commonly prescribed as a painkiller, can also be taken beyond, or even against, medical advice. Even with the looming danger of developing a dependency, Percocet detox is still possible, and it can be the difference between a healthy life and one spent under the shadow of drug abuse.
Percocet: Acetaminophen and Oxycodone
Understanding what goes into Percocet will help explain how and why it becomes so addictive, and the role detox plays in breaking the chains of that addiction.
Percocet is the trade name for a drug that is actually combination of two drugs: acetaminophen and oxycodone, and it is used to treat moderate to severe amounts of pain. Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication. As an opioid, it works by binding to the naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain, slowing down communication between the brain and the central nervous system, and thereby dulling the perception of whatever physical pain the patient is currently feeling.
When an opioid binds to the opioid receptors on the brain, it causes a brief, powerful burst of euphoria, before settling down into a very pleasant daze. Some people can find this sensation so enticing that they take more of the opioid, eventually becoming hooked on the drug, because nothing in life can replace that euphoric feeling. As an opioid, even prescription-level doses of oxycodone can be habit-forming, compelling the patient to take much more oxycodone than is actually needed.
If taken in large doses, too frequently, or in combination with other drugs, opioids can sometimes slow the breathing rate, even to the point of outright stopping breathing. The same is true of oxycodone.
If acetaminophen sounds familiar, that is because it is the active ingredient in Tylenol. Acetaminophen is bundled with oxycodone in Percocet to increase the effects of oxycodone.
When a doctor prescribes Percocet, the drug is administered in a tablet form, because it is the safest way for a patient to take the drug. The acetaminophen and oxycodone are released in measured, balanced amounts, so that the body’s digestive system can break the chemicals down, mitigating the opioid effects of the drug.
However, if someone is addicted to how the Percocet makes them feel, she may not want to wait for her body to break down the tablets. One way she can increase the euphoric and painkilling sensations of Percocet is to grind the tablets down to a powdered form and snort the powder, or dissolve the powder in water and inject that solution into her veins directly – the latter is the most common method of taking heroin, a notorious and deadly opioid.
Heroin and Percocet are both narcotics, meaning that they both work as opioids, depressing the central nervous system to slow the body down. Heroin addicts take their drug because they want to get high; Percocet addicts usually start by wanting their severe to moderate pain to go away, but then find that even as the pain becomes manageable, the rush they get from the Percocet is too good to let go.
Other ways of securing Percocet for the purpose of abusing it might be:
- Faking symptoms to con a doctor into prescribing more Percocet
- Visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Asking a friend or relative for Percocet
- Forging a doctor’s signature in order to con a pharmacist
Any of these (or similar) actions is very indicative of a prescription drug abuse problem.
As with any drug, however, no matter how good the feelings may be, there is always a darker side. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that Percocet (among other similar drugs, like Vicodin) be limited in sales because of connections to 400 fatalities that were attributed to acetaminophen overdose (it takes about 7000 mg of acetaminophen to cause a lethal overdose). Later that same year, the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that oxycodone-related deaths in the province of Ontario had increased by five times between 1991 and 2007.
Abusing Percocet can be deadly, but getting away from the drug is not as easy as it sounds. On the one hand, abusing the drug for its narcotic qualities feels incredibly good; on the other hand, trying to quit a substance to which you’ve become addicted can feel like the drug is trying to kill you.
If a patient who has been taking Percocet for much longer than his prescribed dosage abruptly discontinues his intake for whatever reason, his body and brain are suddenly deprived of the drug upon which they have become so dangerously dependent. The central nervous system, long artificially depressed by the Percocet, goes into overdrive, flooding the body with scrambled and confused signals that cause a number of unpleasant and painful effects:
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle and bone pain
- High blood pressure and heart rate
Together, these are known as withdrawal effects. Not only are they distressing on their own, they entice a user to keep taking the Percocet in order to stave them off. Whether a patient legitimately wants to stop overusing Percocet, or if he simply is unable to get his next dose, he is forcefully compelled to find more Percocet – or some other similar substance – in order to feel calm and normal again. Of course, all he is doing is further poisoning his body and mind with a drug that was initially administered to help him feel better.
Percocet withdrawal symptoms usually last for up to 72 hours and generally taper off around a week after the last dose, but longer periods of withdrawal are not unheard of in cases of long-term or extreme abuse.
Notwithstanding how powerful a Percocet addiction can be, it is still possible to come back from it. The first step of that process is detox.
Detox is a complex medical procedure that involves gradually lowering the dose of Percocet the patient receives each day, in order to teach the body how to function without it. As this involves inducing withdrawal symptoms, it can be extremely painful and distressing for the patient, and it should never be attempted alone, or with people who are not trained medical professionals. The temptation to simply take Percocet to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms will be too great; and in the event that the patient needs help to manage her withdrawal, her friends or family members will not have the necessary medication on hand.
At a treatment facility, such issues can be addressed. A doctor will be nearby to ensure that the patient is never in serious danger, even as her body is wracked with withdrawal symptoms.
One such way of treating the withdrawal symptoms of Percocet in a detox program is with a drug called buprenorphine. Like Percocet, oxycodone and heroin, buprenorphine is an opioid; it attached to the same opioid receptors in the brain as those other drugs, but it gives the user a much milder form of the euphoric high. As a kind of cheap substitute for opioids, it dulls the sensations of pain and discomfort using much the same mechanism as Percocet originally did, but since a patient can’t get as high off buprenorphine as she would another opioid, the potential for developing an addiction is acceptably low. For this reason, buprenorphine is known as a partial opioid antagonist.
Treating a Percocet Addiction
Detoxification serves two purposes: it helps to purge a user of his physical craving to abuse more Percocet, but it also readies him to clean his mind of the psychological craving for Percocet. Without this second stage, detox is pointless; for all the agonizing withdrawal effects a patient goes through, they mean precious little if the patient has no understanding how to stave off the temptation to relapse and find that Percocet high again.
That’s where therapy comes in. A mental health counselor will work with the patient on how he can change his thoughts and behavior to protect himself against the triggers that used to make him go to Percocet. If there are any kind of unresolved psychological issues that would have made prescription drug abuse seem like a good idea, this is where they are identified, understood and learned from. A course of psychotherapy cannot guarantee that relapse will never happen, but it will equip the patient with new healthier ways of thinking and looking at the world.
Becoming addicted to prescription drugs can feel like a sucker punch: you take them to get over your pain, and over time, you find they are the only thing that can make you feel good at all. But a painkiller problem doesn’t have to define your life or your future. Controlling a Percocet problem is possible, and that’s why The Canyon is here for you. All you have to do is pick up the phone and give us a call, and we can help.