Percocet: What You Should Know

Percocet Is Commonly Prescribed For Pain After Surgery

Pain, abdominal pain image
Percocet is Used For a Many Types of Pain.

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a pain medication commonly prescribed for moderate pain after surgery.  It is a narcotic and only available by prescription. It is also known as oxycodone, and contains two medications, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and oxycodone.  

Percocet is an opioid, which means that is a morphine based medication, and should be taken with caution. It is known by several brand names, including Endocet, Percodan, Roxicodone and Roxicet.


Why Percocet Is Used

Percocet is used for the treatment of mild to moderate pain, and after surgery is typically used for a short time during the early days of recovery.  It is used for both acute pain, such as the days following surgery, and may also be used for chronic pain that is ongoing for weeks or even years.  

Patients may have difficulty coughing or performing small amounts of exercise like short walks due to pain, which increases the risk of pneumonia and blood clots.  Decreasing pain helps make these routine tasks tolerable, and can decrease the risk of side effects.

How Percocet is Given

Percocet is given as an oral medication and it available in many strengths.   When prescribed after surgery the pill typically contains 5, 7.5 or 10 mg of oxycodone.  Each pill contains 325mg or more of Tylenol.   It may be given every 4-6 hours, typically on an as needed basis.  Pain will still be present, but will be more tolerable.


How Does Percocet Work

Percocet works in two ways. Oxycodone partially blocks the sensation of pain from reaching the brain. This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel pain, but it will decrease the intensity of pain that you feel.  Acetaminophen is believed to provide a small amount of reduction in inflammation, and may make the oxycodone portion of the medication more effective.


Side Effects of Percocet

  • Along with pain relief, some patients will feel very relaxed when taking Percocet. 
  • Individuals who are taking this type of medication for the first time, or who rarely take this type of medication, may feel sleepy.  
  • Blood pressure is often lower when taking medication, as blood pressure is often increased in response to pain.
  • Decreased respiratory drive, which results in breathing slower and less deeply, is a known issue when taking Percocet. 

Tylenol (acetaminophen) Issues

Tylenol, also known as paracetamol or acetaminophen, can be dangerous in high doses.  Too much Tylenol can cause permanent liver damage, liver failure, or even death.  The maximum recommended dosage of per day is 4,000 milligrams (4 grams).  This maximum dosage is safe in the short term, but should be avoided in the long term. 

When taking Percocet, do not take any other medications that contain Tylenol. Tylenol is present in many medications, including over the counter cold and flu remedies, sleep medications and other types of pain relievers.


If you have liver disease, you should avoid Tylenol when possible, unless directed by your healthcare provider.  

Risks of Percocet

  • Percocet is a Category C medication, it should not be taken by a pregnant woman unless deemed necessary.  Prolonged use by a pregnant woman can result in addiction for the newborn. Breastfeeding mothers should not use Percocet as both the oxycodone and acetaminophen portions of the medications can pass to the infant and can lead to significant breathing issues. 
  • Constipation is common with all opioid based medications.  Drinking more water and eating high fiber foods may help, but a stool softener may still be necessary while taking this medication. 
  • Patients with liver disease may require smaller doses than typical, or less frequent dosing.
  • This medication should not be combined with other pain medications that cause respiratory depression (decreased breathing) or medications that are sedating, such as sleeping pills.  The combination of several medications that induce sleep or decrease breathing can be life-threatening. 
  • Percocet should not be taken while drinking alcohol.
  • Percocet should not be taken with an MAO Inhibitor.
  • This medication may need to be slowly decreased if taken for an extended period of time as physical addiction may be present. 
  • Percocet should only be taken as directed and only as long as your pain makes it necessary. 

Percocet Tolerance

When taken over time, the effects of Percocet are decreased as you become used to the medication.  You may require a higher dose, long term, to obtain the same level of pain relief.  

One way of dealing with tolerance is a drug holiday.  Your healthcare provider may request that you take a drug holiday, meaning you refrain from taking Percocet for a period of time or you take a smaller dose, in order to decrease your tolerance for the medication.  After this period your original dose will likely be more effective again. 

This reduction in dosage may also be done prior to surgery.  If you take Percocet routinely for pain prior to surgery, reducing your dose before the procedure will make the original dose more effective for your surgical pain. 

Percocet Addiction and Physical Dependence

Percocet can be physically addicting.  Physical dependence happens when your body becomes accustomed to taking this medication for an extended period of time. When you stop taking it, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal.  This does not mean you are a drug addict, it means that you body has started to expect Percocet to be available routinely.  Using this medication as directed is key to preventing addiction and abuse. 

Percocet does have a high potential for abuse.  This is when individuals seek out Percocet even though they are not having pain.  They are seeking the high that comes with the medication, or the sedative effects.  This type of addiction may require professional treatment.

You should not share any Percocet that you may have left over after a procedure, and you should not sell your medication.  This is illegal and has the potential to harm others.  Discard leftover medication, as it can be harmful if taken by children, and is often stolen.  

You may want to refrain from telling people you are taking pain medications as home invasions have been reported by individuals with prescription narcotics in the house.


Oxycodone Monograph.  Accessed February, 2016.

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