Percocet contains oxycodone, which is an opioid medication — it binds 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, and they can be very addictive.

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. Over the counter, it is branded as Tylenol.

Percocet contains an amount of acetaminophen similar to that available over the counter.

The addition of acetaminophen increases oxycodone’s effectiveness, which means that Percocet may offer more pain relief than oxycodone alone.

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

Side effects of each

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

Some of the most common side effects of oxycodone include:

  • sleepiness
  • brain fog, or feeling less alert
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • a loss of appetite
  • itchiness
  • constipation
  • nausea and vomiting

Some people experience more serious side effects, such as:

  • allergic reactions
  • confusion
  • low blood pressure
  • a slow heartbeat
  • shallow breathing
  • fainting
  • seizures

A 2011 analysis of 601 people who took oxycodone found that 84% reported being bothered by side effects, and 30.8% said that they were bothered “quite a bit” or “extremely.”

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

In 2018, 128 people died of opioid overdoses each day, making opioids the leading cause of drug overdose.

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

  • telling their doctors 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 longer-term use of the medication. This increases the chances of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Liver damage

Because 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 prescription-strength, acetaminophen-containing drugs, such as Percocet, be removed. 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 mg per tablet or less.

They also stated that boxed warning labels would be added to the packaging of these drugs to highlight the risk of liver damage.

People should never take Percocet and other drugs that contain acetaminophen, including over-the-counter versions, such as Tylenol.

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.

Which is more effective? 

The addition of acetaminophen to oxycodone in Percocet increases the effectiveness of the oxycodone. 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 discomfort associated with severe infections. It will not, however, treat the underlying infection.

Still, while Percocet may ease pain and relieve a fever, compared with oxycodone alone, it is not always more effective. Because of the additional risks of Percocet, it may be safer to try oxycodone first.

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

People who need help managing pain should talk with a doctor about their specific symptoms. For those with chronic pain, it may help to log symptoms over time so a doctor can observe the changes.

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

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