Percocet and oxycodone are prescription opioid drugs that can relieve pain.

Oxycodone is a generic semi-synthetic opioid. Oxycodone is present in many branded drugs and is also available as a stand-alone medication. In contrast, Percocet is the brand name of a medication that contains oxycodone and acetaminophen, a pain relief medication that is available over the counter (OTC) as Tylenol. Oxycodone-acetaminophen is also available as a generic medication.

In addition to their differences in drug composition, the acetaminophen in Percocet may increase pain relief and help treat fever symptoms. The combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen may also increase risk of drug interactions and liver damage.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that any prescription drug, including Perocet, that combines acetaminophen with an opioid could potentially cause severe liver damage.

The FDA 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 and which may be the most effective option for pain relief.

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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 that some people may misuse opioids and develop 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 opioid use disorder.

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.

Neither medication is more effective than the other, although the acetaminophen in Percocet affects different receptors than oxycodone in the pain pathway. The choice of medication depends on the type of pain and the health of the individual. However, oxycodone can provide more pain relief via increased prescription strength.

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

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 drugs that contain acetaminophen, such as Percocet. The FDA cautioned that these drugs could cause liver damage and liver failure, especially if a person does not use them properly.

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 potential for misuse 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.

Opioids such as oxycodone are highly addictive. In 2021, around 1.8% of people in the United States ages 12 or older had a prescription opioid use disorder.

In 2021, an estimated 80,411 people died of opioid-involved 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 a history of 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.

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 recommend or prescribe 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.