When this journalist received 42 generic Percocet pills after minor outpatient knee surgery, she likened it to “using a shotgun to kill a mosquito.”
In other words, being prescribed Percocet, a prescription opioid for moderate to moderately severe pain, was totally unnecessary to treat some post-surgery knee soreness.
In an article published by NPR, she wrote “..on a pain scale of 0 to 10, I was a 4, tops. I probably could have gotten by with a much less potent drug than a painkiller like Percocet…”
A drug like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).
This anecdote provides a small window into the practice of opioid overprescribing. In the 1990s, this practice helped fuel the opioid epidemic, which is statistically regarded as the deadliest drug crisis in American history.
A common narrative that emerged from this epidemic looks something like this: a patient gets prescribed an opioid for a minor ailment and winds up dependent or addicted. For example, one Percocet prescription for a positional headache triggered a full-fledged addiction for this person.
Percocet, a commonly-prescribed opioid, is highly addictive and habit forming. It’s why the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) designates it as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has “a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
When someone becomes Percocet dependent, they typically have withdrawal symptoms once they stop using. Those symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable, enough to drive someone to relapse and potentially overdose, which could prove fatal.
It should also be noted that since Percocet contains acetaminophen, misuse of the drug can put you at risk for liver failure.
Read on to learn more about Percocet withdrawal and treatment solutions.
What is Percocet?
Percocet is a synthetic opioid made of oxycodone and acetaminophen. The oxycodone provides pain relief, and the acetaminophen works as a fever reducer and non-opioid pain reliever.
Percocet is prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain, particularly the kind that comes from broken bones and Cesarean sections. However, oxycodone, the opioid component, attaches to opioid receptors throughout the body, including the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract, according to OncoLink.
The action exerted by the oxycodone is what ultimately blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. Yet, it also triggers the release of dopamine, flooding the brain and producing a euphoric sensation.
One user posted on Reddit that trying Percocet for the first time made them feel “practically superhuman.”
“My body and mind were glowing with euphoria, every marker of well-being that I can think of was surpassing every previous height, the implicit alienness of existence appeared to me [sic] expunged, I was perhaps for the first time of my life at home in the world,” they wrote.
However, not long after the Percocet high kicked in, the person began vomiting, one of the many side effects of the drug.
Once someone stops using Percocet, however, they become prone to opioid withdrawal, which can be distressing, particularly if the drug has been used for a long period of time or abuse has occurred.
Percocet Withdrawal Symptoms
Percocet dependency means the body gets used to the presence of the drug. Once the Percocet exits the system and drug use stops, they experience disturbances known as withdrawal symptoms.
The effects of Percocet withdrawal manifest as flu-like symptoms and occur in early and late phases. According to MedlinePlus.gov, the following early withdrawal symptoms are associated with various opioid medications, including Percocet:
- Muscle aches
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
Late symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
Timeline of Percocet Withdrawal
Percocet withdrawal varies from person to person. Plus, significant factors can determine how symptoms manifest and how long they remain. The factors that influence opioid withdrawal in general include:
- Age, health, and medical history
- Length of Percocet use
- The dose amount of Percocet used
- How Percocet has been used (in intended or non-intended ways like snorting it)
- If Percocet abuse occurred with other substances like alcohol
The half-life of Percocet is estimated at 3.5 hours. The drug’s withdrawal symptoms typically start about 12 hours after last use. Plus, the period of withdrawal can last for two weeks or more.
The general timeline for Percocet withdrawal looks like the following:
First 24-48 hours: The onset of withdrawal starts, and you may experience symptoms such as fever, body aches, and other flu-like effects.
Days 3-5: Withdrawal symptoms peak at this point, and they can be highly painful and uncomfortable. The initial symptoms from the first two days will continue. Plus, you will likely experience intense nausea and diarrhea.
Days 6-7: The physical symptoms will begin to lessen at this time. However, psychological effects like depression, anxiety, and intense cravings can endure.
Days 8 and beyond: Most of the withdrawal symptoms will subside at this point. However, in cases where large doses of Percocet were previously used, the effects of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) can bloom. If you come down with PAWS, you will continue to experience depression, cravings, and irritability, which can last for weeks, months, or even years.
It’s worth noting that 90 percent of people who become addicted to opioids like Percocet can experience some degree of PAWS, says this Verywell Mind article.
According to Verywell Mind, PAWS symptoms, which range from mild to severe, can include the following:
- Cognitive issues with learning, problem-solving, and memory
Less common PAWS symptoms include:
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Relationship problems
- Percocet cravings
- Apathy or lack of interest
- Sleep disturbances
Should I Detox?
The best approach to opioid withdrawal is through tapering, especially if you have used Percocet for longer than two weeks. A taper is a medication withdrawal plan. If you suspect that you or a loved one has become Percocet dependent and/or in the throes of withdrawal, the safest, most effective course of action is to undergo professional treatment.
A reputable treatment program will customize a plan that addresses your medical, social, psychological, financial, and legal needs.
The process of treatment begins, however, with medically-supervised detox, where a medical team safely tapers you off Percocet while administering approved medications to treat your symptoms.
Residential Treatment Services
Once you have been assessed and your treatment plan has been formulated (with your input), you may be recommended for residential treatment services. Residential programs are reserved for severe cases of opioid withdrawal, where you stay at the treatment facility and receive comprehensive therapy and care.
In cases of severe opioid dependency or addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a residential stay of no less than 90 days to maximize treatment effectiveness.
If your case is deemed mild, you may be recommended for an outpatient treatment program, which provides access to therapy and care on a part-time basis. Under outpatient, you can live at home or some other living arrangement while receiving treatment.
The three types of outpatient programs include:
General outpatient: This is the most basic form of outpatient treatment. General outpatient is less structured and requires a minimum amount of participation hours per week. Clients can expect counseling, medical check-ins, and educational workshops in this program.
Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP): This is an in-depth program that offers an intense level of care. IOP is best for patients with a history of relapse or those who require extra support. The expectation with IOP is they participate in at least three weekly appointments for two to four hours each.
Partial hospitalization treatment (PHP): PHP is the most intensive level of care available under the outpatient treatment umbrella. PHP settings are, as the name suggests, in hospitals. Programs of this type require three to five appointments a week where sessions last between four to six hours.
In either of these settings, you have access to an array of evidence-based and alternative therapies and educational classes.
Some of those services include:
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Detoxification treatment
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Relapse prevention planning
- Motivational interviewing
- Education workshops
- Stress management
Because opioids like Percocet are highly addictive and profoundly impact the brain, relapse prevention is essential. A relapse prevention program offers clients a road map to achieving sustained sobriety through the peaks and valleys of addiction. Relapse prevention can equip you with strategies and coping mechanisms to help you successfully confront triggers and cravings.