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The Dangers of Snorting Percocet

Percocet is a prescription painkiller that is usually prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain after an injury or surgery. It combines acetaminophen with oxycodone, and it both play an active role in the pain relief response.[1]

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The drug is prescribed in pill form, and when swallowed whole, it should work effectively and be relatively safe for use. However, if the pills are crushed into a powder that is then snorted, there are a host of dangers that can occur. 

No legitimate prescription for Percocet directs a patient to snort the drug, so any use of the medication in this fashion is termed abuse and requires intervention as it can lead to overdose

Unfortunately, abuse of painkillers like Percocet is an ongoing and increasing problem in the United States. Many people abuse the drug by crushing and snorting the pills that they get through a prescription or purchase on the street.[2]

What You Need to Know About Snorting Percocet

Because Percocet is prescribed and sold in pill form, snorting the drug requires crushing the pills into a fine powder and snorting it rather than swallowing the pill whole. 

In many cases, people start by taking the drug as prescribed for a legitimate reason. They may be dealing with pain after a surgery or injury and find that, after a time, Percocet isn’t giving them the relief they need. To increase the power behind the pill, they may choose to crush and snort it, putting the active ingredient oxycodone directly into their bloodstream through the nasal passages and membrane. 

Especially if the person is taking an extended-release version of Percocet, which is designed to release a dose of oxycodone throughout the day, the entire dose of oxycodone can be accessed at once if the pill is crushed and snorted.[3] While this may induce increased level of pain relief, it comes with many risks and dangers, including these:[4,5] 

  • Acetaminophen toxicity
  • Medical emergency, including respiratory depression and oxycodone overdose
  • Oxycodone addiction 
  • Nose and throat damage

Immediate Physical & Mental Risks of Snorting Percocet

The nose and throat are designed to filter out toxins from air and process food into the body, respectively. The introduction of chemicals that permeate the sinus membranes and linger on the throat can add up to great medical harm in addition to intense psychological side effects. These are some of the issues that can occur:

Nose & Throat Damage

Irritation and inflammation of the nasal passage due to direct exposure to the crushed Percocet is an immediate result of snorting the drug. The particles can be abrasive. As a result, they can cause nosebleeds, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing. 

Over time, repeated snorting Percocet can cause the septum to erode, creating a perforated septum, which is defined by the cartilage separating from the nostrils. This can cause additional respiratory issues and usually requires surgery to fix.[6]

Respiratory Damage 

Snorting Percocet inevitably means introduction of particles of oxycodone and acetaminophen into the lungs. The particles can hinder lung function, and the depressant nature of oxycodone can make it harder to breathe as well.  

Additionally, the ingestion of a large amount of oxycodone in any form can slow down breathing to the point that it stops entirely, causing an overdose if medical help is not received in time.[7]

Sinus Damage

Inflammation of the sinuses that happens repeatedly with snorting Percocet can lead to chronic sinusitis characterized by headaches, congestion, and facial pain.

Sinus infections are also a risk with chronic abuse of an opioid via snorting. Infections may be bacterial and require medical treatment to be cleared.[6] If they are not treated, further complications can develop. 

Systemic Health Risks 

Absorbing large amounts of an opioid like oxycodone into the bloodstream can also trigger cardiovascular complications and potentially damage other organs in the body as well, causing them to shut down. While opioid overdose generally occurs due to respiratory depression, it can also happen as a result of organ shutdown or a cardiovascular event.[8]

Overdose

Oxycodone can shut down the body by slowing the respiratory system down so much that it stops entirely. It can also trigger cardiac arrest. This can happen with first time use or a single large dose. 

Snorting a large amount of Percocet can make this happen quickly because it forces a large amount of oxycodone into the bloodstream without the delay of oral ingestion. Without medical assistance, this can be a deadly event. 

Addiction

Like overdose, addiction can happen at any time, and it is characterized by physical dependency as well as psychological components. It can happen quickly.

Snorting Percocet is generally a choice made by someone abusing the drug in the service of maintaining an addiction. If addiction is not already an issue, it is far more likely to develop with this level of abuse. 

For some, the abuse of Percocet and the resulting addiction comes from a co-occurring depression or anxiety disorder. Many may seek to self-medicate the symptoms of their mental health issue by using opioids like oxycodone.[9] Not only is this an ineffective way to manage symptoms, but the use of oxycodone has also been found to trigger a new depression diagnosis in those who were not already living with the problem.[10]

The Rise in Abuse of Percocet & Prescription Drugs

Rates of opioid abuse and addiction have been and continue to remain at epidemic levels with an estimated 3 million Americans either currently struggling with the problem or in recovery.[11]

It’s a problem that began with the over-prescription of opioid painkillers in the early 2000s This was driven in large part by a marketing push by pharmaceutical companies, a lack of oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a lack of understanding in the medical community of the long-term risks associated with abuse of these medications.[12] 

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following statistics provide a current picture of prescription drug abuse in the United States:[13] 

  • About 8.9 million Americans over the age of 12 reported past-year abuse of prescription painkillers or heroin (another opioid) in 2022. 
  • Of this number, 8.5 million people reported abusing prescription painkillers, making them the most commonly abused opioid drug. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control says that there are an estimated 1,000 visits to the emergency room every day in the U.S. and 91 deaths due to abuse of opioids.[14]
  • Between 1999 and 2021, overdose deaths in the U.S. caused by use of prescription opioids rose and then fell. They are currently on the rise again.[15]

Percocet Addiction Treatment

Percocet dependence can happen with a medically legitimate prescription for the drug, but it does not indicate a problem until there is a psychological component. 

Percocet abuse occurs when any misuse of the drug takes place, such as taking Percocet without a prescription or crushing the pills and snorting the powder. Percocet addiction develops when physical dependence is compounded by psychological dependence and cravings. 

When this happens, Percocet addiction treatment is needed to address the problem safely and effectively. 

Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms 

The first step in treating this addiction is to stop misusing Percocet with medical guidance. For many, without medical intervention, this can trigger a host of intensive withdrawal symptoms that may include the following:[16] 

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Agitation and irritability 

MAT

Since opioid withdrawal can be dangerous in some cases due to symptoms like dehydration, medical supervision is needed. Through the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as buprenorphine or methadone, withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be managed, so people make it through the early stage of recovery safely and successfully.

Therapy

In addition to medication, MAT involves the use of behavioral therapy in both the form of individual and group therapy sessions. In some cases, physical therapy for chronic pain, alternative and holistic treatment methods, and 12-step support groups may also be appropriate. 

The essential factor in recovery is seeking guidance and support from an addiction treatment facility like Boca Recovery Center. Our team of experts can design a personalized addiction treatment program that is right for your needs and then help you see it through into recovery. 

A Path to a Healthy Future

Snorting Percocet can damage the nose and throat, depress the respiratory system, and potentially cause a deadly overdose. Crushing Percocet pills and snorting them is a sign of Percocet abuse, which is indicative of an opioid use disorder. 

Addiction is not something that can be treated at home, especially when the drug of choice is a prescription medication that is needed for the management of pain. If you or someone you love is living with a Percocet addiction, reach out to an addiction treatment program that can help you to safely stop using the drug and start living a full life in recovery. 

With increased education and awareness of the opioid crisis, individuals can become advocates for their own health and get treatment before it’s too late.

Updated February 21, 2024
Resources
  1. PERCOCET- oxycodone hydrochloride and acetaminophen tablet. National Institutes of Health. Published 2018. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  2. Tampering with Prescription opioids: Nature and extent of the problem, health consequences, and solutions. Katz N, Dart RC, Bailey E, Trudeau J, Osgood E, Paillard F. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 2011;37(4):205-217.
  3. Relative preferences in the abuse of immediate-release versus extended-release opioids in a sample of treatment-seeking opioid abusers. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Kasper ZA. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. 2016;26(1):56-62.
  4. Elevated acetaminophen concentration measured after nasal insufflation of Percocet®. Reid N, Mazer-Amirshahi M, Clancy C, James L, van den Anker J. The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2013;45(5):683-685.
  5. Intranasal Opioid-induced destruction of the nose and throat. 1.Sutherland L, Sutherland A, Khalil D, Safneck J, Meen E. Canadian Journal of Addiction. 2017;8(2):17-22.
  6. Nasopharyngeal necrosis after chronic opioid (oxycodone/acetaminophen) insufflation. Rosenbaum CD, Boyle KL, Boyer EW. Journal of Medical Toxicology. 2012;8(2):240-241.
  7. Opioid effect on lungs. Yamanaka T, Sadikot RT. Respirology. 2013;18(2):255-262.
  8. National trends and outcomes of cardiac arrest in opioid overdose. Sakhuja A, Sztajnkrycer M, Vallabhajosyula S, Cheungpasitporn W, Patch R, Jentzer J. Resuscitation. 2017;121:84-89.
  9. Substance-induced anxiety disorder in opioid dependents. Ahmadi M, Ahmadi J. Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment. 2005;4(4):157-159. doi:
  10. New depression diagnosis following prescription of codeine, hydrocodone or oxycodone. Scherrer JF, Salas J, Bucholz KK, et al. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. 2016;25(5):560-568.
  11. Opioid addiction. Huecker MR, Azadfard M, Leaming JM. National Institutes of Health. Published February 28, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  12. How FDA failures contributed to the opioid crisis. Kolodny A. AMA Journal of Ethics. 2020;22(8):E743-750. doi:
  13. Highlights for the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published in 2022. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  14. Opioid overdose. Schiller EY, Mechanic OJ. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published 2019. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  15. NIDA IC Fact Sheet 2024. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published March 13, 2023. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  16. Opioid withdrawal. Mansi Shah, Huecker MR. StatPearls. Published June 4, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2024.
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