Percocet is the trade name for a fixed-dose combination of oxycodone and pain medications such as Tylenol or acetaminophen. Because oxycodone is an opioid, there is already a high potential for abuse and dependence. When it comes to prescription medications for moderate pain, Percocet is a very popular option. Many abusers take Percocet in extremely high doses, making Percocet abuse a common problem. In order to understand why this substance can be problematic, we are going to look at the effects that long-term use of the medication has.
The Short-Term versus Long-Term Effects
Like all opioids on the market, there are some dangerous short-term effects linked to the use of oxycodone. Perhaps the most dangerous is respiratory depression, which means that it decreases the body’s natural drive to breathe. In many narcotic overdoses, respiratory depression ends up being the actual cause of death.
However, as with many of the short-term effects of the substance, a tolerance to the danger of respiratory depression develops rather quickly. This means long-term users do not have the same respiratory depression risks unless they combine the medication with other substances that can affect our breathing (such as alcohol) or the user drastically increases his or her intake. It does remain extremely dangerous for those users who cease use temporarily and then relapse – because their body no longer has the built up tolerance.
The most dangerous effect of long-term Percocet use does not come from oxycodone, but from the included acetaminophen. Studies have shown that in large doses, acetaminophen may cause liver damage or even complete liver failure. A paper published in the journal “Hepatology” in December 2005 demonstrated that a majority of patients (63 percent) that developed acute liver failure because of a single large dose of acetaminophen did so because of painkilling combinations such as Percocet. Patients may receive more of the substance than they are acutely aware of.
Studies have shown that chronic liver diseases (such as cirrhosis) are a real risk with consistent, long-term acetaminophen use of more than four grams daily. The chance of developing issues increase if the user also ingests things such as alcohol or other substances that may lead to potential liver toxicity. Those who abuse the medication may end up taking more than the prescribed dosage in order to receive the same pleasurable effects of the oxycodone.
It Can Lead to Dependence
Percocet may lead to psychological and physical dependence. This may occur if the user receives negative or positive reinforcement to continue using. Because of the progressive tolerance of Percocet, the body quickly becomes accustomed to having the medication available. Because the body is becoming used to having the drug, an increased dosage is needed to achieve the desired pleasurable effects.
Psychologically the long-term use of the substance may cause drug-seeking behavior and lead to an overreliance on the substance. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms, an obsessive preoccupation with the drug, or the inability to cease use despite knowing the negative consequences.