Percocet is considered a combination medication, as it contains both the over-the-counter medication acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, and the opioid painkiller oxycodone. It is a prescription medication dispensed to treat moderate-to-severe pain.
The prescribing information for Percocet explains that the drug is meant to be taken every six hours as needed to manage pain. Percocet can remain active in the bloodstream for up to 12 hours, and it often takes about 24 hours to fully process out of the body.
Part of what determines how long a drug remains active in the system is its half-life, which is half the duration of time the drug is actively working. Since Percocet is a combination medication, both of the two active ingredients need to be considered when talking about half-life and how long it takes for the drug to exit your body.
The first is acetaminophen, which has a half-life of about two to three hours, U.S. Pharmacist explains. This means it stops being active in the bloodstream in about four to six hours and processes out in about 12 hours. The journal Clinical and Translational Oncology reports that oxycodone has a half-life of between three and five hours, meaning that it generally stops working actively in about six to 10 hours and processes out of the body in about 24 hours.
Several factors can influence how long it takes for the body to metabolize and purge Percocet.
Both acetaminophen and oxycodone are mostly processed out of the body through the liver and, in part, excreted through the kidneys and urine. Oxycodone is metabolized into both oxymorphone and noroxycodone, which are not detectable on typical federal workplace drug testing, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes.
As a semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone typically needs to be tested for with immunoassay (EIA) methods that use a cutoff of 300 ng/mL. To prepare for a drug test, it is helpful to know what type of drug test is going to be administered. Primary ways that drugs are tested for include:
A urine test is one of the most common forms of drug tests. In general, Percocet is likely to be detectable in urine within about two hours of taking the drug and up to three or four days after the last dose.
Saliva tests tend to detect the drug more quickly, but potentially for not as long as a urine test. Percocet may be detectable in saliva within the first 15 to 30 minutes of taking it and for about one to four days after the last dose.
A blood test is generally only able to detect oxycodone for the first 24 hours after taking it, while hair testing typically provides the longest detection window. Blood drug tests are not done very often, as they are considered highly invasive and able to pick up on drug use only for a fairly short window of time.
A hair drug test can often track drug use for as long as 90 days; however, drug use typically has to be fairly heavy for Percocet to show up in hair. Hair tests are considered the most noninvasive and can provide a good indicator of regular drug use, but they do not typically show intermittent use of drugs, the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America publishes. A hair drug test can typically show what drugs are used on a regular basis and provide a three-month drug record.
Percocet is a combination medication, containing between 2.5 mg (milligrams) and 10 mg of oxycodone per tablet. The more oxycodone that is in the dose you are taking, the more likely it is to show up on a drug test.
To be safe, when taking a urine, blood, or saliva drug test that checks for oxycodone metabolites, you should stop taking Percocet at least a week before the test. Drug tests will not be able to tell the difference between drug misuse or necessary medicinal use, so be sure to take that into account.
Since oxycodone cessation can come with intense withdrawal symptoms, do not stop taking it suddenly if you have been taking it for a prolonged period. You should consult a physician who can devise a safe tapering schedule or refer you to a medical detox program.
Detox involves processing drugs out of the body. In the case of Percocet, detox can come with some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. As such, it is not a drug that is recommended to stop suddenly as the physical flu-like symptoms, emotional lows, sleep disturbances, drug cravings, thinking problems, and mood swings can be significant.
Oxycodone is a powerful opioid drug that is very habit-forming. With regular use, the body and brain get used to the way it interacts with brain chemistry, leading quickly to drug dependence. Once you are dependent on Percocet, withdrawal can be difficult when you stop taking the drug. Withdrawal symptoms begin right as the drug stops working in the body, so in as little as 12 to 24 hours.
Percocet misuse can increase drug dependence more rapidly and, therefore, intensify and prolong withdrawal. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 4 million people in the United States misused a prescription painkiller containing oxycodone in 2016.
Percocet is meant to be swallowed and metabolized through the gastrointestinal system. If the drug is crushed and then snorted, injected, or smoked, it enters the bloodstream differently, which can affect how it is metabolized and how long it will take to process out of the body.
Drug metabolism can vary from person to person as well. Various factors can, therefore, impact how long it takes Percocet to fully exit the body.
(November 2006). Percocet. Endo Pharmaceuticals. from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2006/040330s015,040341s013,040434s003lbl.pdf
(March 2014). Acetaminophen Toxicity: What Pharmacists Need to Know. U.S. Pharmacist. from https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/acetaminophen-toxicity-what-pharmacists-need-to-know
(May 2007). Oxycodone: a Clinical and Pharmacological Review. Clinical & Translational Oncology. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17525040
(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm
(June 2014). Oxycodone and Hydrocodone: Detection in Urine, Oral Fluid, and Blood. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/meeting/documents/flegel-research-studies-dtab-june-2014_0.pdf
(March 2016). Objective Testing: Urine and Other Drug Tests. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4920965/