What is Percocet? Drug facts, side effects, abuse and more


Story highlights

  • Percocet is a mix of an opioid and the medicine in Tylenol
  • Naloxone is a key tool in fighting the opioid epidemic

(CNN)Percocet is a painkiller that's part of a family of drugs known as opioids. Though some are derived naturally, such as heroin or morphine, others are synthesized in a lab, including hydrocodone and oxycodone. Percocet is the brand name of a drug that mixes oxycodone and acetaminophen, the generic name for drugs such as Tylenol.

These narcotics have the same cellular structure. Opioids such as Percocet latch on to opioid receptors in the brain. They can create a sense of euphoria and numb pain, but they can also slow breathing.
    Percocet is commonly prescribed to patients suffering from pain, whether from a cesarean section or a broken bone. Opioids vary in the length of time between when they are taken and when the user feels an effect. Oxycodone, the opioid in Percocet, is relatively fast-acting.
      As is true of all medicines, opioids are not inherently good or bad, said Dr. Caleb Alexander, an associate professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the co-director of the school's Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
      "The value of Percocet or any medicine depends upon how its applied, how it's used," he said. "And so, for the right patient at the right time, it's a remarkable medicine. But unfortunately, it's been vastly overused, as have all opioids."

      Percocet side effects

        Those who take the drug may experience both short- and long-term effects. In addition to euphoria and pain relief, Percocet may cause drowsiness, constipation, depression, memory problems, decreased testosterone, cardiac problems, bone problems, addiction and death.

        Percocet addiction

        Percocet is classified as a Schedule II drug by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which means it a drug with "a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence."
        Alexander said it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics on the number of people misusing Percocet because it not uncommon for individuals with an addiction to switch between opioids.
        "The opioids as a class are more similar than they are different," he said.
        Dr. Sarah Wakeman, the medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, said national drug surveys often lump prescription drugs into one category rather than separate them by brand name.