Last updated: 06/1/2021
Author: Michael E. Wolf, PhD
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Percocet is a combination prescription painkiller comprised of the opioid, oxycodone, as well as acetaminophen, the non-opioid painkiller sold under the brand name, Tylenol. It is generally safe if you take it exactly as directed, but many people misuse and abuse Percocet for its desirable effects, such as euphoria and relaxation. Taking too much Percocet or mixing Percocet with other substances, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, can cause an overdose.1
Table of Contents
What is a Percocet Overdose?
A Percocet overdose occurs when you take a toxic amount of Percocet that the body cannot handle, disrupting physiological functioning. An overdose on Percocet or any other opioid can be life-threatening and requires emergency medical treatment. In 2019, there were nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., and most of those fatalities were caused by opioids like Percocet.2 But there are ways to save your life or the life of someone you care about. One of the ways to do that is to be aware of the signs of a Percocet overdose.
Signs of a Percocet Overdose
If you or someone else is experiencing a Percocet overdose, you may notice the following signs and symptoms:3,4,5
- Extreme sweating
- Unusual bruising or bleeding
- Pain in the upper right area of the stomach
- Yellow eyes or skin
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Limp body
- Gurgling or choking sounds
- Pinpoint pupils
- Bluish lips and nails
When you overdose on Percocet or any other opioid, you will experience dangerously slowed respiration and heart rate. The presence of acetaminophen can also result in liver failure in extreme cases. This is because acetaminophen affects the liver as well as the gastrointestinal system.4
Percocet Overdose Potential
Nearly 30% of people who are prescribed opioids like Percocet misuse them, which means they take them in a way other than prescribed.3 Misuse includes:
- Taking higher or more frequent Percocet doses than directed
- Mixing Percocet with other substances
- Using Percocet in a way other than directed (e.g. snorting or injecting)
- Taking someone else’s Percocet
Misusing Percocet increases your risk of experiencing an overdose, especially if you misuse or abuse it over a long period of time. Chronic Percocet use can lead to a tolerance to its effects. This means that you need to take a higher dose in order to get high. As you take higher and higher doses, the higher the risk of a Percocet overdose.
Who is at Risk for a Percocet Overdose?
If you have issues with severe, chronic pain, your physician may prescribe Percocet as a part of your treatment. The risks of overdose increase significantly when you misuse the medication by taking high doses over time.1
That said, there are other factors that may increase your risk of overdosing on Percocet. These include:3,5
- Using Percocet in a way other than intended
- Being dependent on Percocet
- Crushing, chewing, snorting, or injecting Percocet
- Combining Percocet and other drugs with acetaminophen
- Using Percocet in combination with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines
- Having other serious medical conditions like liver disease
- Having a Percocet addiction
- Injecting Percocet
- Having a high-dose prescription
- Returning to Percocet use after an extended period of abstinence (such as following cessation of a treatment program)
Moreover, people aged 65 or older are at an increased risk of Percocet overdose than younger age groups, although it is still possible for younger people to overdose.5
What to Do if a Percocet Overdose Occurs
A Percocet overdose is a medical emergency. It is essential to call 911 for emergency intervention. Provide the operator with as much relevant information as possible, such as:
- The person’s age
- How much Percocet they took
- When they took the last dose
- Any other substances they may have used
A high dose of Percocet can result in permanent physical or cognitive deficits along with coma and even death, so immediate care is critical when someone overdoses on Percocet.7
While you wait for emergency services to arrive, you need to remain calm and monitor the person for increasing signs of distress. Roll the person onto their side in order to prevent choking. Try to keep the person awake, if you can. If you have training in CPR, prepare to administer it if necessary. If you have naloxone on you, follow the instructions to administer it. You may have to use several doses.3,7
How to Treat a Percocet Overdose
Initial treatment for a Percocet overdose is to keep the person alive by restoring bodily functions, such as breathing and maintaining a consistent heart rate. Emergency personnel will monitor vital functions, including pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure, and temperature.
If available, naloxone can be administered. Naloxone is a life-saving opioid overdose medication that reverses the effects of an overdose on Percocet or any other opioids. That said, an overdose on Percocet can cause liver failure as well, due to the presence of acetaminophen. Many emergency medical personnel will also administer N-acetylcysteine, an antidote for acetaminophen. This substance is essential in preventing liver failure.8
Medical personnel will need to prevent any further absorption of the Percocet by pumping the stomach and administering activated charcoal. Due to the potentially high dose of acetaminophen, liver function tests may be performed to prevent liver damage.8
Dangers of a Percocet Overdose
Profound respiratory depression and death are the most significant acute dangers of a Percocet overdose, but there are chronic complications associated with non-fatal opioid overdoses as well. This is because the respiratory depression experienced during a Percocet overdose can lead to hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency. Hypoxia can damage the brain and organs.
Lasting consequences from a Percocet overdose may include:9
- Heart complications
- Neurological problems
- Short-term memory loss
- Slower reaction time
- Mental disorientation
- Gait changes
- Kidney failure
- Nerve damage
- Fluid buildup in the lungs
- Loss of motor function
- Pneumonia (from inhaling vomit)
Signs of a Percocet Addiction
If you have experienced a non-fatal Percocet overdose, you may be struggling with a Percocet addiction. Following medical stabilization, it can be beneficial to transition into an opioid addiction treatment program, where you can receive a combination of therapeutic interventions that can help you quit using Percocet in the long run.
Signs of a Percocet addiction may include:10
- Withdrawn behavior
- Isolation and mood changes
- Inability to stop using the opioid
- Obsessive preoccupation with Percocet
- Increased tolerance
- Inability to perform everyday tasks
- Stopping normal activities to use
- Sexual dysfunction
- Excessive sweating
When you are addicted to Percocet, you are likely to have a physiological dependence, meaning you need to take this opioid to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This can create a cycle of quitting, going through painful withdrawal, and returning to opioid use to relieve these symptoms.
Chronic Percocet use can lead to dependence, which means distressing withdrawal symptoms will emerge if you suddenly quit using opioids. Withdrawal symptoms from Percocet may include:11
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold sweats
- Cravings for Percocet
- Agitation and anxiety
- Irritability and anger
- Problems with concentration
- Mood swings
- Muscle and joint pain
Medical Detox and Addiction Treatment
Opioid withdrawal is typically not life-threatening but can be extremely uncomfortable, which is why medical detox is recommended. In a medical detox program, you’ll receive opioid withdrawal medications like methadone or buprenorphine to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings while the treatment team provides medical care.
Once you are medically stabilized and the Percocet has been removed from your system, you will want to consider transitioning into a comprehensive Percocet addiction treatment program. Detox is just the first step of care; it doesn’t address the underlying issues that caused you to misuse Percocet in the first place. A substance abuse treatment program typically includes interventions, such as:
- Individual therapy
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Peer support groups
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
Following discharge from a treatment center, it’s important to receive aftercare or ongoing support so that you can continue to build upon the foundation you started in rehab. Aftercare can involve a sober living home, a 12-step program, or outpatient therapy.
If you or a loved one is addicted to Percocet, call 800-926-9037 Who Answers? to speak to a treatment support specialist about finding a detox or treatment program near you.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine DailyMed. (2010). Percocet-oxycodone hydrochloride and acetaminophen tablet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 3). Drug overdose deaths.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Opioid Overdose Crisis.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2012, April 15). Acetaminophen.
- World Health Organization. (2020, August 28). Opioid overdose.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, February 15). Oxycodone.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, January 19). Hydrocodone/oxycodone overdose.
- Lloyd, J. The clinical use of naloxone. Food and Drug Administration. (2012).
- Zibbell, J., Howard, J., Clark, S.D., Ferrell, A., Karon, S. L. (2019). Non-fatal Opioid Overdose and Associated Health Outcomes: Final Summary Report. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
- Volkow, N. D. (2016, January 27). What science tells us about opioid abuse and addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Cunningham, C. & Fishman, M. (2015). The ASAM National Practice Guideline for the Use of Medications in the Treatment of Addiction Involving Opioid Use. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.