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Last updated May 9, 2017, originally published April 30, 2016
By H. Sims, Contributing Columnist
Prescription drugs are becoming famous for all the wrong reasons.
Prescription drugs, including Percocet, are believed by authorities
possibly to have been a part of the demise of the music legend Prince,
according to the Washington Post. Michael Jackson is said to have
taken Percocet in the days leading up to his tragic death. Why are
Percocet overdoses or abuse becoming more common in the news
these days? Why is Percocet, a commonly prescribed and generally
well-regarded drug abused by so many?
What Is Percocet?
Every day, thousands of Americans are prescribed an opioid pain
medication such as vicodin, oxycotin or percocet.
Percocet is a compound of acetaminophen and the highly addictive
oxycodone. Despite the addictive nature of Percocet, vocodin and
oxycontin, in the overwhelming number of cases, these prescription
drugs are both effective and safe if taken correctly.
These drugs are often referred to as "narcotics", owing to their strong
effect on mood.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports that
roughly a fifth of patients who have non-cancer related acute and
chronic pain (most commonly, acute pain as a result of surgery or a
traumatic accident) are prescribed with an opioid medication, which
amounted to 259 million prescriptions in 2012, the equivalent giving a
bottle of pills to every adult in the United States. And this is a recent
spike in the trend: the CDC also reports that opioid prescriptions
increased by 7.3% between 2007 and 2012, which has caused alarm
amongst some commentators.
So What Does All of This Mean, and Should We Be Worried?
First of all, there are side effects to be aware of. The UK National Health
Service (NHS) warns that the oxycodone in percocet may have the
same common side effects as morphine, which include: sedation,
respiratory depression, nausea and vomiting, constipation, sweating
The NHS suggests that morphine should be the first port of call for
treatment of pain, and only if the patient is allergic, or develops adverse
effects, should they be switched to percocet or oxycodone alone.
Their advice is that it should effectively be the last resort.
More seriously, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta states that
medication like percocet can have serious risks including overdose and
opioid use disorder.
The highly addictive nature of oxycodone and percocet mean that when
discharged from care and when self-administering the drugs, often
patients can find themselves dependent and it can be extremely difficult
to cut down on the dosage or control usage.
In fact, between 1999 and 2014, it is reported that there were over
165,000 overdose related opioid pain medication deaths in the US.
Undoubtedly, this is an alarming trend, especially in light of the fact that
prescriptions of percocet are still increasing in number.
Statistics from the Drug Abuse Warning Network show that in 2011
there were roughly 420,000 emergency department cases of misuse or
abuse of narcotic pain relievers.
All of these statistics patched together produce a worrying picture.
Opioid use disorder manifests itself in a number of ways, ranging from
dependence to death, and can have grave social impact – for example,
a patient not being able to function in a work, home or school
environment and fulfil responsibilities.
Even if a patient is able to recognise patterns of this behaviour and
seek help, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to
stop the treatment.
So Why Don’t We Stop the Use of Percocet and Oxycodone?
It’s widely accepted that in the case of chronic and acute pain, these
drugs can be extremely efficient and effective as a treatment.
A 2003 study at Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc by Gammaitoni et al tested
the effectiveness and safety of oxycodone/acetaminophen – namely
percocet – in treating lower back pain, an often debilitating and intense
Percocet was tested on patients who had previously been treated with
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, tramadol,
cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors and/or other opioids.
A total of 33 men and women with an average age of 52 who had been
suffering from back pain for an average of 10 years were given doses
of percocet three times a day for four weeks.
The team found that two-thirds (66 %) of the patients experienced
significant pain relief and tolerable side effects, a very successful
However, it should be noted that this treatment was of course a last
resort. Nevertheless, percocet is effective, and relatively fast-acting,
when all other medications have failed to provide relief.
Furthermore, various studies have shown that percocet is safe in the
first instance and tolerated by most patients.
A trial at the Huntington Hospital of Pasadena, California, in 2014 led by
Dr Singla, assessed the safety of using percocet as treatment up to 14
days after bunionectomy surgery.
In a controlled study, 129 patients were given 2 tablets of percocet
every 12 hours up to 14 days after the surgery. Of these patients who
took percocet, 64 reported adverse side effects, with the most common
being nausea, vomiting and constipation.
However, the team stated that no changes in vital signs or clinical
laboratory tests were considered by the investigator to be clinically
significant. Therefore, the paper concluded that percocet is a safe
treatment with good patient satisfaction for control of post-surgery
At What Stage Does This Treatment Become a Problem?
An anonymous account, published by the Journal of Medical Toxicology
in 2012 and entitled ‘My Story: How one Percocet Prescription
Triggered my Addiction’, describes the transition between treatment
and addiction for one nurse who was diagnosed with a spinal headache
following a bout of meningitis.
Initially placed on a percocet for two weeks for treatment of the
headache, the individual continued to stay on the drugs for an
additional week because of the feeling that they could function at a
However, after the prescription ran out after this week, the individual
already began to experience low mood and essentially, withdrawal
Because of their professional position as a nurse, they were able to
access and obtain more opioids, and this is where the situation
However, the point here is that it was only after a mere three week
prescription that percocet became problematic. These are the cases
where the administration of the drug becomes risky and a cause for
So, Should We or Shouldn't We Rely on Percocoet?
The increasing trend of prescribing percocet and other opioid
prescriptions and the statistics that are available are concerning.
These drugs are highly addictive and healthcare professionals must
execute the strictest protocol when administering the drugs.
As reported by the New York Times, many advocates for medical
marijuana have seen this as an optimum time to argue their cases
further as they see opioids as highly addictive and unnatural
substances, while medical marijuana can provide relief with fewer side
However, studies consistently show that when controlled, percocet is a
safe, tolerable and extremely effective treatment for patients who
suffer from chronic and acute pain and have explored every other
For patients who have been suffering for years or decades, percocet is
a logical option. A balance undoubtedly needs to be drawn, and the
utmost care taken when treating patients with such pain and
prescribing sustainable and effective treatment, appropriate to the case.
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