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Running head: Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

The Abuse of Prescription Opioids in the U.S and the Standard Methods of Treatment/Prevention
Olivia L. Snyder
PSY 366: Abnormal Psychology
Arizona State University

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

The Abuse of Prescription Opioids in the U.S and the Standard Methods of Treatment/Prevention
PART 1:
Over the past fifteen years, deaths linked to drug overdose have more than doubled and
deaths that are the result of an overdose involving opioids have increased by 200%. Some of the
increase can be attributed to the fact that opioid prescriptions have quadrupled in that time period
which correlates with over half of drug overdose deaths involving some type of opioid in 2014
(Rudd et al. 2016). This information led me to perceive opioids, both prescription and not, as a
persistent problem in the US. In the interest of time, I have narrowed my focus to prescription
opioids and will be using Percocet, also known as Oxycodone HCl, as an example.
Percocet is prescribed to relieve moderate/severe short-term pain, most commonly
administered following a major surgery or serious injury. It is rarely prescribed to treat chronic
pain as a result of its short acting characteristics and high risk for addiction. It is considered an
Opiate due to its active ingredients being a combination of Oxycodone, an opiate, and
Acetaminophen, a common ingredient in Tylenol (Percocet, 2016). Oxycodone is used to
target the central nervous system and numb feelings of pain, where Acetaminophen is included to
inhibit chemical messengers that transmit pain signals, these two working in tandem create a
very effective pain-reliever (Addiction Blog, 2012). However, large doses can result in a
euphoric high that is comparable to heroin, this is one of the reasons it has contributed to a
growing illegal market. Its high risk for addiction to individual users and the active ingredients
including a synthetic substance that is classified as an Opiate, makes Percocet a Schedule II drug
(Drug Scheduling, 2015).
While Percocet is a common treatment for short-term pain, it comes with many unsavory
side effects as well as being a high risk drug, unfortunately most continuous users or abusers will

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

experience symptoms of withdrawal upon reducing or halting their dosage. Some symptoms
include: nausea, vomiting, fever, aches/pains, insomnia, weakness, and depression; all of which
can occur with varying intensity depending on the individual and their use of the drug (Patterson,
E. 2015). The initial phase of withdrawal can last anywhere from one week to two weeks, mostly
as a result of their system not being fully cleansed of the drug until after a few days, but residual
symptoms can last for months beyond that first stage (Percocet, 2016). Percocets growing
prevalence as a prescription drug, and its highly addictive nature have led to it becoming a
significant contributor to overdoses in the US.
PART 2:
The effects of Percocet on the body, and its addictive properties, are largely the result of
an opiate being an active ingredient. Percocet targets opioid receptors in the Central Nervous
System to manipulate the bodys perception of pain by tricking it into releasing Dopamine to
illicit feelings of pleasure, numbing pain receptors, and inhibiting chemical messages alerting the
brain to an injury/pain (Patterson, E. 2015). In recommended doses, side effects of Percocet aside
from pain relief include: dizziness, drowsiness, lack of coordination, respiratory complications,
nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Doses larger than what is recommended by a doctor can
result in feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and elevated pleasure on one side of the spectrum, and
increase risk of overdose or liver failure on the other (Percocet, 2016).
On top of the drug itself already being a high risk for addiction, certain environmental
factors can increase your risk of abusing or developing an addiction to Percocet. The first factor
is whether or not the individual has a history of alcohol/substance abuse. A study found that 80%
of people entering treatment for heroin addiction had previously abused opioids in the 1960s,
but had started with heroin (Cicero et al., 2014). Along with prior history, long-term use and

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

improper management are also contributing factors. Percocet is a short acting pain reliever,
designed for short term use. Taking it more frequently, or for a longer period of time than is
recommended puts an individual at risk for addiction. In 2008 and 2009, a study of heroin users
found that around 86% of participants had used opioids outside of medical necessity before
transitioning to heroin. This study also found that they had been granted access to these drugs
through family members, peers, or personal prescriptions (Lankenau et al., 2012). Out of the
participants who reported abusing opioids in the 2000s, around 75% percent reported that they
started with a prescribed opioid (Cicero et al., 2014). Lastly, combining Percocet with
medications, substances, or alcohol without consent from a doctor is another contributing factor
to heightened addiction and overdose risk (Addiction Blog, 2012).
In the 1960s, the opioid user demographic consisted of adolescent, male, minorities that
resided in more urban areas. At this time, the most common opioid available was heroin. Then
moving into the 1980s, opioid users were represented equally in white and minority
communities. Since then, the most recent demographic consists of white, young-adult to middle
age persons residing in more suburban areas. This demographic reported starting with
prescription opioids, like Percocet (Cicero et al., 2014). Currently, individuals who abuse or have
developed an addiction to Percocet are not concentrated within any one age, race, gender, or
socio-economic group (Patterson, E. 2015).
PART 3:
For the most part, public policy toward possession or use of controlled substances like
Percocet isnt described as inherently illegal, the context under which the substance was
obtained, used, or distributed is the determining factor. The possession or use of Percocet is legal
under a doctors supervision, or for the purpose of research. However, it becomes illegal when

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

there is no legitimate justification for the possession, use, or distribution of that substance.
Extending beyond possession and use, unlawful distribution of controlled substances is also
illegal. The punishment for these crimes is generally based on the type of drug, quantity, and
intent of the user. Punishment for possession or distribution of Schedule II drugs like Percocet
can be fines exceeding $100,000, a few weeks to upwards of 10 years in prison, probation, or
mandatory rehabilitation (Theoharis, B. M. 2016).
The public perception of prescription opioids like Percocet and Oxycodone is that these
are medications prescribed by a trusted doctor, therefore they are safe to use and the risk for
addiction is minimal. This idea also stems from the belief that these medications have a purpose,
like being administered to improve health, so they are good. Then compare that to the way that
opioids that arent prescribed as medication are perceived as bad and dirty because they are used
to get high, despite them having similar effects to the prescription drugs (Patterson, E. 2015).. In
addition to general misinformation, there is a stigma behind addiction labeling it as something
that only impacts low income, minority groups who are introduced to drugs on the street/in their
neighborhoods. This perception differs greatly from the way that abuse of prescription drugs is
often glorified for the wealthy. You can see this by the general assumption that all homeless
people are addicts or alcoholics and therefore dirty/useless, but the wealthy can abuse alcohol
and drugs without much comment and still be viewed as contributing members to society.
When it comes to the prevention of opioid addiction, the first step is to put more focus on
identifying the proper justifications for prescribing an individual with prescription opioids (Rudd
et al., 2016). Then monitoring the use of the drug by the individual during their healing process
and beyond, looking for behaviors like doctor shopping and exceeding the allotted refills are
integral preventative measures. The way Percocet, or any prescription opioid, reacts with the

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

body is cause for concern when it comes to prescribing the drug as well as what happens after the
drug is no longer needed. The high risk for addiction and consequence of withdrawal
encourages doctors to gradually wean their patients off of the drug carefully. In addition to that,
having a reliable support system prior to, during, and post prescription are integral to the
individuals ability to not become dependent on the drug (Percocet Addiction, 2015).
According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality: with prescription
opioids increasing in popularity and becoming more common, the number of admittance to
treatment centers citing opioids as the cause is also increasing. The approach to individuals who
are already addicted to/have suffered a non-fatal overdose on prescription opioids, like Percocet,
is much more involved and time consuming. The first symptom that is addressed is any physical
damage to the body that is the result of opioid use, most commonly this is liver and respiratory
failure (Patterson, E. 2015). After that, most treatment facilities utilize variations of the following
methods to aid addicts, these methods include: replacement therapy, supervised detox, and long
term in-patient or out-patient treatment (Percocet Addiction, 2015). In order to prevent an
individual relapsing back into addiction, aftercare is crucial to the recovery process. This
involves follow-ups with doctors, therapists, and support groups.
PART 4:
In November of 2006, at the age of 40, the beloved R&B singer Gerald Levert died of
acute intoxication after ingesting a fatal drug cocktail consisting of Vicodin, Percocet, Darvocet,
Xanax, and over the counter antihistamines. Nearly all of the drugs that contributed to his fatal
overdose were prescribed to him, the painkillers for chronic shoulder pain and a surgery he
underwent a year prior, and the Xanax for his anxiety. His death had been ruled an accident
(Williams, S. 2007). He was a very popular singer, not known for exhibiting high-risk behaviors,

Abuse of Prescription Opioids-Percocet

didnt have a prominent history of alcohol or substance abuse. He was a family man recovering
from surgery, dealing with chronic pain and anxiety attacks. Leverts death was unexpected for
his family and friends. Scenarios like this arent uncommon, a lot of the misuse of prescription
and over the counter medication stems from the general belief that it is used to heal your body, so
it cant hurt you, or it was prescribed by a doctor and they know what theyre doing, so its safe
(Patterson, E. 2015). Leverts family and peers may not have been worried about him becoming
dependent on pain killers, or mixing medication because they were all legal and prescribed to
him, the assumption was that he was safe. When it comes to preventing drug dependence or
accidental overdoses, the major factors are consulting your doctor frequently, monitoring the
individuals behavior, ensuring that a timetable is set up for how long the individual will be on
prescription opioids, and maintaining a sufficient support system.

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8
References

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