Over the last two decades, the rates of prescription drug abuse have increased at a dizzying pace. Today, the widespread abuse of prescription medication-be it opioid painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants- is recognized by the government as a serious national health problem here in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health completed in 2015, approximately 12.5 million Americans over the age of twelve reported taking prescription medications for non-medical reasons. This data is five years old, and the numbers have only increased since then, but even then, it represented nearly five percent of the American population.
What defines drug abuse and addiction?
Drug abuse is the intentional misuse of prescription medication. This could mean people use their own prescription in a way for which it was not intended. Examples of this could include someone using their prescription pain killers that were given to them after a surgical procedure as a sleep aid or for relief of a different symptom. Drug abuse is also when someone takes a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them in the first place. Drug addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by the compulsive seeking of drugs or sources to get drugs. This compulsion continues despite harmful consequences. Sometimes the terms drug abuse and drug addiction are used interchangeably, but they have entirely different meanings. Both prescription drug abuse and prescription drug addiction are significant problems in the United States and can have potentially fatal outcomes.
What is Percocet?
Percocet is the brand name (or trade name) for a painkiller that combines oxycodone and acetaminophen. Oxycodone is an opioid analgesic (or narcotic painkiller). Oxycodone can have similar effects on the body as heroin and morphine. Oxycodone is derived from the same source as morphine and some other illegal drugs, including heroin, which is a primary reason for the similarity in effects. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol. This component of Percocet is a mild pain reliever and fever reducer.
Opioid medications such as Percocet activate the reward centers in the human brain. People who become addicted to Percocet become addicted to the way the medication makes them feel. However, over time the body becomes desensitized to the effects, and the drug stops working as well as it used to. At some point, the dosages required to obtain the same stimulating effect become larger and larger, eventually reaching dangerous levels.
Percocet goes by a few other names as well. Many prescription drugs that have a tendency to be abused also have “street names” or slang names. Percocet is also known as Hillbilly Heroin, Perks, or Percs, to name a few.
What is Percocet used for, and how does it impact the body?
Percocet is generally prescribed for short-term relief of moderate to severe pain that is not chronic in nature. Examples of this could include post-surgical pain or pain from a sustained injury such as a broken back. Percocet would not be prescribed for chronic pain conditions such as long-term joint pain or arthritic pain. Percocet (like morphine and heroin) affects the brain and central nervous system by affecting the way the brain perceives pain.
As previously mentioned, Percocet acts on the opioid receptors throughout the body. This action creates a series of chemical events that eventually modify pain perception (they change the awareness of pain or how pain is felt), and they elicit a dopamine response. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the body that plays an essential role in the reward system within the brain. This means when dopamine is released, and it triggers feelings of pleasure and motivation as well as reinforcing the behavior that elicited the dopamine release, to begin with.
When taken in large doses, Percocet can cause someone to experience a “high” similar to that caused by heroin. This high results in feelings such as euphoria, feelings of calm and relaxation, and heightened pleasure.
Unfortunately, many people view Percocet as a “safer” alternative to street drugs such as cocaine and heroin. There is a common thought that since a doctor prescribes Percocet, it is, in some way, safer than illicit drugs. This is not the case. Percocet abuse can lead to many of the same dangerous problems related to dependence, addiction, and physical consequences as the illicit street drugs for which it is viewed as a substitute.
Recognizing addiction-signs and symptoms
One of the most effective ways to spot Percocet addiction is to look for the signs of common side effects in someone who is using the drug. Percocet has a number of possible side effects. Common side effects of Percocet use include:
- Sleepiness or difficulty sleeping-for some people, Percocet will cause lethargy and the feeling of wanting to sleep. For others, the opposite may be true. Excessive Percocet use may make sleeping nearly impossible, so the person may appear chronically tired.
- Slow breathing- opioid pain medications commonly reduce a person’s rate of breathing. This is why overuse or abuse can be very dangerous.
- Constipation-Opioid pain medication reduces intestinal motility. This means the matter in your intestines moves much slower than it usually would. This often causes constipation and hard or difficult bowel movements.
- Constricted (tiny) pupils
Excessive use of opioid pain medications such as Percocet can also cause mood swings, depression, low blood pressure, and difficulties with coordination and movement. While not all of the signs and symptoms may be present in every person and each person may present differently, it is important to recognize signs and symptoms of potential addiction as early as possible to prevent further complications.
Social and behavioral signs of Percocet addiction
If you believe you or someone you care for may have a Percocet addiction, it is valuable to look beyond the standard signs and symptoms of Percocet use. There are a variety of different behaviors that may be subtle (or not so subtle) red flags for addiction.
One of the first indicators is a person taking more of the medication than prescribed by a doctor. If you or someone you love has a Percocet prescription but is taking more than their prescribed dose or dosing more frequently than prescribed, this could be a cause for concern. Along the same lines as taking too much of the medication, is altering the dosing method. For example, if the Percocet prescription is a tablet that is meant to be swallowed, but instead, it is being crushed, chewed, snorted, or injected to increase the speed at which the drug enters the body; this is a cause for concern.
It is also essential to consider that Percocet is only available by prescription, and therefore it can be difficult to obtain without a medical reason. Many people who are addicted to Percocet are not able to obtain enough of the medication to fill their needs through legal means. Therefore, they may try alternate means of obtaining the pills. Some alternative ways many include doctor shopping (going from one doctor to the next to obtain multiple prescriptions), forging/stealing prescription pads, buying or trading Percocet for other medications, and stealing the medication from friends, family members or strangers are all alternate means of obtaining the drug. Some people many even file false police reports stating their medication was stolen in order to obtain additional pills from the pharmacy.
Excessive Percocet use can cause a person to develop obvious (abnormal for them) mannerisms. In some cases, the person may appear high or be unusually excitable. For some, the reverse is true, and they will appear sedated or excessively tired. This will depend on how the drug impacts their individual systems, but either way, the behavior won’t be “normal” for the person.
Effects and consequences of Percocet addiction
Opioid medications such as Percocet commonly abused. Excessive use of opioid pain medication can lead to serious health complications, dependence, and addiction. Some of the consequences and complications of Percocet addiction can include:
- Physical damage to your body organs-Your liver is a prime target for medications such as this. Percocet contains acetaminophen, and excessive consumption of acetaminophen can cause liver damager over time.
- Excessive use of Percocet can increase a person’s risk of choking and aspiration.
- Breathing issues-Percocet and other opioid pain medications cause a significant reduction in a person’s respiratory rate. In some cases, if overused or taken in a manner outside of that which was prescribed, Percocet can cause someone to stop breathing altogether.
- Death-Excessive use or misuse of Percocet can cause coma and, in some cases, death due to overdose. Additionally, a person who is addicted to Percocet may be more likely to use other illegal drugs or prescription drugs when they are unable to obtain Percocet (or when Percocet stops producing the desired result). Certain combinations of medications can have lethal effects.
Addiction to Percocet can also have an impact on personal relationships and work performance. Sometimes those who misuse or abuse Percocet will engage in risky behaviors to obtain more of the drug, which can lead to accidents, bodily harm, and even arrest and jail.
Treatment for Percocet addiction
Treatment for Percocet addiction often requires a multifaceted approach. As strange as this may sound, sometimes prescription medications may help a person addicted to prescription medications to quit and recover from their addiction. Medications are often needed to help treat the symptoms associated with detoxification and withdrawal. Without the use of these medications, the withdrawal process can be challenging, and for some, unmanageable. Withdrawal symptoms can include excessive sleepiness, dizziness, muscle pain and weakness, panic attacks, and “flu-like symptoms,” including fever, vomiting, and GI upset. To help alleviate these symptoms, treatment centers will often provide methadone or buprenorphine. It is essential that the withdrawal process is monitored by professionals who are trained and skilled in drug rehabilitation and recovery. Those who try to undergo detox and withdrawal outside of a treatment setting often relapse early on as withdrawal symptoms become too intense to bear. The staff of professionals in a rehabilitation center such as The Hills Treatment Center can help you or your loved one detox from Percocet slowly and work to minimize the effects of withdrawal.
Detox is only the first step in the treatment and recovery process. Once detox is complete, it is necessary to follow up with rehabilitation therapy to reduce the chances of relapse. Withdrawal is harder, but for some, staying clean and drug-free beyond a stay in rehab is even harder. Treatment programs that tend to be the most effective are those that are comprehensive in nature. Comprehensive treatment includes treatment that meets the person’s needs from the moment they enter rehabilitation through their discharge and post-rehabilitation environment. Effective treatment plans also include relapse prevention measures such as creating a plan for when triggers are encountered, or cravings are higher than average. Some effective aftercare programs include sober living environments, check-ins, accountability measures, and follow-up counseling.
Outside of a rehabilitation facility, there are community options available to engage in. Well, known twelve-step programs and similar community-based group programs utilize the power of a group and peer support to maintain sobriety and to uphold accountability.
Regardless of the aftercare program or method is chosen, the most important element for success in a drug addiction rehabilitation program is to design a treatment plan that specifically meets the needs of the individual involved. Each addiction is different, and therefore what may lead to success for one person will likely be ineffective for someone else.
Programs such as ours at The Hills Treatment Center combines medically assisted treatment with counseling and relapse prevention measures to assure your continued, ongoing success after you return home. Each treatment plan is created to suit your individual needs. Our programs are designed to assist you in building awareness around your addiction and understanding how your addiction impacts both your physical and emotional well-being. Therapy sessions may focus on identifying triggers or feelings associated with use, so you are better able to negotiate those feelings after your rehabilitation program is complete. If you or a loved one are battling an addiction to Percocet and are ready to seek assistance, contact us at The Hills Treatment Center. Allow us to help set you up with a treatment program that is individualized and comprehensive.