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Substance Abuse

Street Drug Scare in Georgia Puts Spotlight on Percocet

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percocet abuse yellow tablet in the state of georgia

A massive number of people were rushed to various hospitals in Georgia earlier this month within a 48-hour period due to difficulty of breathing. Some individuals were reported to have stopped breathing due to a mystery “yellow pill”, which was believed to be Percocet.

The state of Georgia’s Department of Public Health was alarmed to discover that patients continued to flock in hospitals and have received reports that it may be linked with drugs and a possible mass overdose.

The “yellow pill” has been allegedly identified to be Percocet, an opioid pain medication that may have been bought from the streets. Although confirmation was still pending at the time of the announcement, the health department has given out information on how extremely potent this drug. In fact, counteracting its effects would need massive doses of Narcan (a nasal spray variant of naloxone, which is a popular opioid blocker).

Apart from the scare of not being able to breathe easily, the potential drug overdose could have resulted in permanent physical and mental impairment, or even lead to death if medical treatment was not given immediately.

What is Percocet?

Percocet is an opioid pain reliever that contains a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, and is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone, being a semisynthetic narcotic painkiller, is the more potent ingredient of Percocet.

Taking Percocet in high doses can result in an extremely high level of euphoria, which can make an individual become physically and psychologically dependent, especially if the drug is used over a long period.

Acetaminophen, on the other hand, is an analgesic and antipyretic drug that acts similarly as paracetamol and ibuprofen to heighten the effects of Percocet. Acetaminophen does not cause any drug dependence, although taking Percocet in large doses can cause liver toxicity.

Why is Percocet being abused?

Percocet is regulated as a Schedule II narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency since it has a high potential for abuse and may lead to physical and psychological dependence. Among other drugs under this classification include:

  • Amobarbital
  • Amphetamine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Glutethimide
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate
  • Morphine
  • Opium
  • Pentobarbital

All the drugs mentioned above can be used for medical purposes, but can only be purchased and used with a prescription. However, these narcotic opioids and stimulants are being sold in the streets due to the extraordinary euphoric effects that some individuals have become attracted to.

These drugs have become a means of escape from the real world for some people, as users reported that it has helped them to feel great despite having difficulties in life. It is safe to say, therefore, that turning to drugs has become their invisible mask from all the negativity that they may feel. Instead of entertaining negative thoughts, they would choose to take the drugs to completely forget about their personal issues – at least, just for the duration of the effect of the drug.

The dangers of using Percocet

percocet tablet

Percocet tablets (Photo from CBS Local)

Percocet is a known drug that can help treat pain. However, with or without prescription, it can become addictive if taken in inappropriate amounts.

Percocet can be snorted, chewed, smoked or injected. When individuals use them beyond how it is prescribed, the more concentrated form of Percocet produces a high level of euphoria.

Individuals who abuse Percocet may experience its side effects. Contracting an infection or disease can be possible when needles are shared. Such an enormous concentration can poison the body, which can result in the death of the individual.

Some of its side effects include the following:

  • Coma
  • Constipation
  • Constricted pupillary diameter
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular breathing
  • Liver damage
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low blood pressure
  • Mood swings
  • Respiratory depression

Meanwhile, rare adverse effects of Percocet use include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Fast or slow heartbeat
  • Hives or rash
  • Intractable emesis
  • Obtundation
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, face, eyes, hands, feet, or ankles

Percocet was designed as an adjunct treatment for acute pain. However, due to massive marketing and advertising of drug companies, Percocet has been recommended to use for an extended period of time. The use of the said drug may result in the following conditions:

  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Severe constipation
  • Slightly decreased testosterone levels in men
  • Tolerance
  • Urinary retention

These things are likely to happen when Percocet is taken for recreational purpose or for self-medication. Therefore, handling such drugs requires utmost care and should only be taken with a prescription.

The following are signs of Percocet abuse:

  • Consuming Percocet faster than prescribed
  • Disconnection from family and friends
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increased use of Percocet
  • Trying to refill prescription more than necessary

The effects of Percocet overdose

Tolerance is likely to ensue when drugs are taken progressively in large doses in order to achieve the desired effect of the drug. An increase in the intake of Percocet may result in unfavorable side effects such as constipation and liver damage, and can even worsen as the dose is increased.

Additionally, there is a possibility of unintentional overdose with the increase in consumption of Percocet.

Percocet Dependence

prescription drug dependence percocet

A user becomes dependent on the drug when he feels that it is significant for him to take the drug in order to function normally. In this scenario, withdrawal symptoms become apparent when the drug use is halted. When this happens, users tend to go “doctor shopping”, hoping to be given a prescription in order to purchase Percocet and feed on the addiction all over again.

Addiction to Percocet may be manifested through the following signs and symptoms:

  • Abandoning previously enjoyable activities
  • Feeling like drugs are necessary to perform everyday activities
  • Loss of control over drug use
  • Obsessive preoccupation with the drug
  • Physiologic tolerance
  • Spending large amounts of time trying to acquire drugs
  • Taking the drug to relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to stop using the drug despite negative consequences

Drug Testing for Percocet

Despite seeing what seems to be obvious by knowing the signs and symptoms involved with Percocet abuse or addiction, it is best to let the individual undergo drug testing. Although this may not be a welcoming thought to the individual, drug testing is a good first step in trying to save the individual from possibly hurting himself in the long run.

According to SAMHSA, there are five types of drugs that can be detected by a typical drug test:

  • Amphetamines (meth, speed, crank, ecstasy)
  • Cocaine (coke, crack)
  • Opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust)
  • THC (cannabinoids, marijuana, hash)

Although breathalyzer can be used to determine the level of alcohol in the blood, there are other drug testing methods used to detect the presence of drug and its metabolites.

  • Urine: This is the most common and inexpensive drug testing method. It only requires a certain amount of urine to be collected from an individual, and results may be determined after a few minutes.
  • Blood: This drug testing method is more expensive than urine drug test. It is also considered to be invasive since there is a need to poke a needle and extract blood from the individual.
  • Hair: Although not a very common drug testing method, hair drug testing can provide a more accurate result since it can detect the presence of drugs up to 90 days after drug use.
  • Saliva: This type of drug test collects the oral fluid to detect drugs and alcohol. Although the presence of drugs or alcohol does not last long in saliva, this kind of drug testing can determine current use of any drug or alcohol.
  • Sweat: This drug testing method makes use of a patch that analyzes the sweat that the person produces for any presence of drugs.

The metabolites in Percocet can only be detected in urine within 48 hours after the last use. Blood testing may even be shorter at only 1 day after the last dose. The best way to catch Percocet use is hair drug testing, because the drug compounds remain in the individual’s hair follicles for about 30 days.

When using the hair drug testing method, the length of hair sample should be 1.5 inches and should be cut near the hair follicle. It is within this range that the presence of drug can be detected as the hair grows half an inch every month. Allowing it to grow an additional inch translates to the 90-day window detection time for some drugs. Of course, it is possible that some individuals may grow their hair more quickly or slowly than others.

The belief that frequent shampooing can get rid of any traces of drugs in hair is a myth. No matter how much hair shampooing a user does, the drug will remain in the hair unless the hair has been completely cut off.

Treatment Options for Percocet Abuse

Percocet abuse is not something new in the United States. It has actually been in existence since the early 1990s. However, it may not have been as popular as other drugs. Nevertheless, the recent mass overdose in Georgia alarmed not only the state but the whole country as well.

Treatment for Percocet addiction may need admission to a detoxification center. It is through this form of treatment that a drug user will be able to gradually clean his system off of Percocet.

Unfavorable withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur, which is why the treatment recommended should be in a medical facility instead of letting the user undergo outpatient therapy. Dangerous withdrawal symptoms may also occur, which would need direct supervision of medical experts to ensure that the patient is able to take the recommended treatment. Otherwise, there is a high possibility of having a relapse.

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Panic attack

Detoxification is done by flushing out the drug from the user’s system. It is important that the user undergoes detoxification; otherwise the treatment will not be successful.

The rehabilitation process requires at least three months, which is enough time for the individual to completely get used to being drug-free. It allows the individual the time to think about the underlying cause that led him to such addiction.

Counseling is helpful so that the individual may be provided the right guidance on how to properly manage any stressful situation instead of going back to drug addiction.

There are also support groups where a recovering individual should be able to join. This way, he may be more encouraged to completely stay away from the drug.

It is recommended that the family would show their support to the recovering family member so that he would be able to feel that despite everything that has happened in the past, his family remains at his side. Moreover, a great way to ensure that relapse will not occur is to keep the individual away from people who may be responsible for introducing Percocet as a recreational drug.

Final Word

Treatment for such abuse is a long-term and intensive endeavor. The journey towards recovery may not be as smooth sailing, but the key to recovery is to stick to the kind of treatment provided.