The United States has been locked in a stranglehold by the opioid crisis as overdose statistics continue to climb to new heights, with an average of 46 people per day dying from prescription painkiller overdose such as fentanyl. It has reached such a fever pitch that President Donald Trump has declared the staggering rise in opioid abuse a public health emergency.
While people tend to see drugs like heroin, morphine, and oxycodone as the key players in the crisis, there is another far more potent and dangerous substance at the forefront of the epidemic: fentanyl. Lethal at incremental amounts, able to cause an overdose by being accidentally absorbed through the skin, and rarely detected in standard toxicology screens, the lethality of fentanyl is only matched by how difficult it can be to identify.
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STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION? START YOUR JOURNEY TO RECOVERY WITH ARETE RECOVERY!
STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION? START YOUR JOURNEY TO RECOVERY WITH ARETE RECOVERY!
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an incredibly potent synthetic opioid analgesic. Analgesics are a class of drugs meant to treat chronic pain, outlasting the temporary effects of anesthetics. Similar to morphine, fentanyl affects the central nervous system, binding to proteins known as opioid receptors, blocking off pain signals to the brain, and inducing feelings euphoria and sedation.
What differentiates fentanyl from morphine is that it is roughly 100 times stronger than morphine and only meant to be prescribed to people with severe chronic pain who have become physically tolerant and unresponsive to drugs such as oxycodone. Fentanyl comes in more forms than almost any other prescription painkiller, including:
- Nasal spray
- Injectable liquid
- Transdermal patches
- Dissolving tablets or film strips
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl can also come in the form of:
- Blotter paper
- A heroin-based mixture
- Tablets meant to mimic other opioids such as Vicodin
In its prescription form, fentanyl is also known by brand names such as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for fentanyl and fentanyl-heroin mixtures include Tango and Cash, China White, TNT, and Gray Death, which refers to a particularly deadly combination of fentanyl, heroin, and carfentanil, an opioid analog to fentanyl that is even more powerful.
What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction?
To put it bluntly, due to its rapid and often deadly effects, you are more likely to see signs of a fentanyl overdose than an addiction. Because fentanyl is cheaper to synthesize and easier to obtain than heroin, it is a popular substitute in illegal drug labs. As such, many people with a dependency on heroin will unknowingly use heroin that has been either mixed with fentanyl or is entirely fentanyl and was deceptively sold as heroin, resulting in an almost immediate overdose.
That said, those who take fentanyl in minute enough doses to not be fatal are virtually guaranteed to become addicted.
Even people who have been specifically prescribed fentanyl by a physician are still at an incredibly high risk of potential dependency. Common signs of fentanyl addiction include physical ones, such as:
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty walking
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- A weakened immune system
- Nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues
- Weight loss
- Slowed heart rate
- Uncontrolled itching and scratching
Mental and behavioral signs of fentanyl addiction include:
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of motivation
- Major personality changes
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is indicative of fentanyl dependence. Professional help should be sought out as soon as possible, not only to stem the mental and physical damage it causes but also to avoid the imminent danger of overdose and death.
What Is Involved in Fentanyl Addiction Treatment?
Again, due to the rapid onset of fentanyl’s side effects, which are lethal even in small doses, many people who use it are in grave danger of a fatal overdose long before making it to an addiction treatment center.
Treatment for any opioid addiction is never easy, but fentanyl treatment can be even more fraught due to its extreme potency, which means that even if someone has not been using fentanyl for very long, they still can already have developed a severe addiction.
Medical detoxification is the first step in most addiction treatments, and while it is always recommended that you detox in a professional setting where medical experts can closely monitor you, it is vital in the case of a fentanyl detox, since you will need a medical maintenance program to wean you off of it. Some typical medications you can expect during fentanyl addiction treatment include:
A long-acting opioid antagonist, methadone is used to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in opioid addicts and is popular as a long-term alternative for those who have a history of opioid relapse.
As an opioid analgesic, buprenorphine has many of the same euphoric effects as drugs like heroin or fentanyl, but at significantly reduced levels. It is commonly used to treat opioid dependency and wean users off of stronger drugs.
A mix of buprenorphine and a drug called naloxone that completely blocks the effects of opioids, Suboxone is not just used to wean users off of opioids but also to decrease withdrawal cravings.
However, even after detox, an acute loss of pleasure and severe depression will most likely remain, which creates a high risk of not only potential relapse but fatal overdose as well. Rehabilitation treatment and therapy can help substantially lower this risk and get you on the path to recovery. Treatment plans will vary for individual patients based on assessment and evaluation, but they will usually incorporate some of the following:
Each dose of fentanyl carries the risk of overdose and death, but if you can get into addiction treatment soon enough, it can save your life and help you change it for the better.
Helping a Friend or Loved One
When getting treatment, there is no doubt that professional treatment is the most effective way to treat addiction. However, we understand that immediate treatment is sometimes not an option, and you may ask yourself “What can I do by myself to help a loved one?” Like a good friend or family member, it is vital that you provide a positive environment at all times.
Being a supportive individual is just as important as detox medication when it comes to fentanyl addiction. You should try to provide a positive outlook on the recovery process as well as contribute toward a comfortable environment for the victim suffering from fentanyl addiction.
If the patient going through recovery is part of an outpatient program and only visits the recovery center a few times a week, it is important to keep hopes high when they are not being treated.
If the patient going through recovery is part of a residential program and stays on site at the recovery center as a resident, a simple phone call can turn the tides when someone is battling an addiction.
We found that, during recovery, it is important that the client knows that you are on their “team.” By using personal pronouns like “ours” and “us,” you can create a bond between you and the client. It is much easier to beat addiction as a team, and a recovering fentanyl user will feel much safer and comfortable knowing you have their back.
How Dangerous Is Fentanyl?
If it has not been made clear by this point: fentanyl is extremely dangerous, more so than nearly all of its opioid peers, largely due to how incredibly powerful it is and how quickly its effects take hold. Fentanyl-related overdoses can result in sudden death from:
- Cardiac arrest
- Cardiovascular collapse
- Respiratory arrest
- Severe respiratory depression
- Severe anaphylactic reaction.
The dangers of fentanyl are wide-ranging:
- It is unbelievably potent to the point that the amount of fentanyl necessary to cause an overdose is so small that you could fit at least a dozen lethal doses on the face of a penny.
- When legally prescribed, fentanyl is only to be used on patients with severe chronic pain who are opioid-tolerant, as it carries a high risk of fatal respiratory depression. However, this deadly side effect can also occur in patients who are opioid-tolerant anyway.
- Simply touching fentanyl with your bare skin is enough to trigger an overdose. In fact, in 2016, three drug-sniffing police dogs in Coral Springs, Florida, had to be rushed to vet by overdosing on fentanyl absorbed through the pads of their paws.
- Skin contact isn’t even necessary to experience adverse effects from fentanyl. During a raid on a drug lab in Hartford, Connecticut, a flash-bang grenade caused fentanyl powder to go airborne, and 11 SWAT team members had to be rushed to a hospital to be treated for exposure after inhaling the powder.
- It is almost impossible to know if heroin or cocaine has been cut with fentanyl, leading to rapid, deadly overdoses. It is equally difficult to treat a fentanyl overdose quickly enough because standard toxicology screenings will often miss fentanyl, causing emergency room doctors to lose critical treatment minutes.
Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, is a powerful drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by completely blocking the brain’s opioid receptors. It is so strong that it creates intense and immediate withdrawal effects and is, therefore, only for use in overdose emergencies. However, fentanyl is so potent that it can take multiple doses of Narcan to reverse a fentanyl overdose effectively, and they would have to be administered very quickly.
Fentanyl Abuse Statistics
- Fentanyl was responsible for more than 20,000 overdose deaths in the United States 2016.
- Over the past three years, fentanyl overdose deaths in the U.S. have risen by 540%.
- In 2012, fentanyl was detected in roughly four percent of illicit drug overdose deaths. This year, just between January and August, fentanyl has been found in 81% of illicit drug overdose deaths.
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
Substance abuse is always dangerous, but fentanyl is especially so, as most people who use it will die from an overdose before they have a chance to become dependent on it. If you or a loved one is using fentanyl, it is not too late to find help.
At Arete Recovery, our professional, compassionate staff can provide you with expert care and support to help get you off of fentanyl and on the road to sobriety. Contact us online or call (855) 781-9939 to get connected now.
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