Percocet and oxycodone are both opioid drugs that can relieve pain. Oxycodone is a generic ingredient in many branded drugs. Percocet is the brand name of a medication that contains oxycodone and acetaminophen.

Percocet contains oxycodone, which is an opioid. It also contains acetaminophen, a pain relief medication that is available over the counter (OTC) as Tylenol.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that any prescription drug that combines acetaminophen with an opioid — as Percocet does — could potentially cause severe liver damage.

The agency also advises manufacturers to limit the amount of acetaminophen in these products to make them safer.

This article explores the uses, side effects, and other risks of oxycodone and Percocet. It also looks at which of these medications may be the most effective option.

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Percocet contains oxycodone, which is an opioid medication. Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, blocking certain pain signals.

Opioids can also trigger a sense of euphoria or sleepiness in some people. Due to this, there is a danger of people misusing opioids and developing an addiction or dependence.

Doctors usually prescribe opioids when a person has moderate to severe pain, which may result from:

  • surgery
  • an injury, such as a broken bone
  • an infected tooth
  • muscle damage

They may also prescribe opioids for chronic pain, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend trying other medications first. Using opioids for long-term pain significantly increases the risk of addiction.

Acetaminophen, the other ingredient in Percocet, is a non-opioid pain relief medication that can reduce a fever. It is available OTC under the brand name Tylenol and also comes in several generic store brands.

Percocet contains an amount of acetaminophen similar to that available OTC.

Acetaminophen also affects different receptors alongside the same pain pathway as oxycodone, which means that Percocet may offer more pain relief than oxycodone alone.

As it contains acetaminophen, Percocet may also help with fever-related symptoms, such as chills, muscle aches, and fatigue.

The acetaminophen in Percocet affects different receptors than oxycodone in the pain pathway. This may mean that, for people with severe pain who do not get relief from oxycodone alone, Percocet is more effective.

Acetaminophen can also reduce a fever, which may relieve the discomfort associated with severe infections. It will not, however, treat the underlying infection.

However, while Percocet may ease pain more effectively than oxycodone alone and relieve a fever, it is not the best option for everyone.

For instance, doctors do not recommend Percocet for anyone with a history of liver issues. A person with this medical history should not take the drug, even if oxycodone alone does not work.

Percocet and oxycodone can cause many of the same side effects, as oxycodone is an ingredient in Percocet.

Some of the most common side effects of oxycodone include:

Some people experience more serious side effects, such as:

Liver damage

As Percocet also contains acetaminophen, it carries more risk of side effects than oxycodone alone.

The most notable additional side effects of Percocet are liver-related problems, such as dark urine.

In 2009, the FDA recommended that healthcare professionals no longer prescribe acetaminophen-containing drugs, such as Percocet.

The agency cautioned that these drugs could cause liver damage and liver failure, especially when a person does not use them properly.

Later, in 2011, the FDA advised drug manufacturers to limit the amount of acetaminophen in prescription drugs to 325 milligrams (mg) per tablet or less.

They also announced the addition of Boxed Warning labels to the packaging of these drugs to highlight the risk of liver damage.

Percocet’s addictive potential increases the risk of liver injury, as some people may take significantly more than the recommended dosage. This can severely damage the liver.

Drugs that do not contain acetaminophen, including those that contain oxycodone only, tend to carry a significantly lower risk of liver damage.

However, more recent research suggests that if a person uses an opioid in combination with acetaminophen, they may not need to use opioids long term to manage pain. A person should weigh the possible benefits and downsides of opioid-containing medications with a doctor before taking any.

Opioids such as oxycodone are highly addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 21–29% of people who receive opioids for chronic pain misuse these drugs.

In 2020, 68,630 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States, making opioids the leading cause of drug overdose.

People can reduce the risk of misuse, addiction, and overdose by:

  • telling the prescribing doctor about any history of drug addiction
  • taking opioids only when necessary
  • using no more than the recommended amount
  • using opioids for the shortest possible period

The risk of addiction is higher when a person takes opioids to manage chronic pain, which requires long-term use of the medication. This increases the chances of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Both Percocet and oxycodone require a doctor’s prescription. A person should discuss all of their current medications and supplements with the doctor.

People should never take Percocet alongside other drugs that contain acetaminophen, including OTC versions, such as Tylenol.

Taking opioids alongside serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can cause serotonin syndrome.

Some other drugs that can interact with Percocet include:

Percocet and oxycodone may not work well for everyone. Certain groups should avoid taking either medication.

Those who should not take Percocet include:

  • anyone sensitive to either acetaminophen or oxycodone
  • people who are pregnant, nursing, or in labor
  • people with previous addictive behaviors
  • those who take other medications that may interact with either acetaminophen or oxycodone

A doctor will check a person’s current medications and supplements and consider their medical history to help determine whether either medication is safe for them.

The costs of these medications can vary depending on a person’s situation.

For people with insurance, their plan will likely cover the costs of the medication with a copayment. The plan provider may, however, require a doctor to try other forms of pain relief before it will cover a stronger treatment, such as Percocet.

A person may be able to acquire a prescription card that can help with the copay.

A person without insurance will likely have to pay for a Percocet or other opioid prescription, although those with a low income may be eligible for financial help. A doctor or pharmacist can provide more information regarding prices.

People who need help managing pain should talk with a doctor about their specific symptoms. Individuals with chronic pain may find it helpful to log their symptoms over time so that a doctor can observe any changes.

Both Percocet and oxycodone can offer significant pain relief for most people. However, some individuals will need to try different types of medication before they see improvements.

It is important to do this under close medical supervision. A person should consider speaking with a doctor who specializes in pain management.