Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. The effects of fentanyl are similar to that of other particularly strong opioids such as heroin. The drug is among the most dangerous and prevalent in the United States, currently believed to be involved in as many as half of the drug-related deaths in the country.
Forms of Fentanyl:
Medically-approved fentanyl is found in hospitals and occasionally available in prescription forms. In a hospital setting, it is frequently used for the treatment of severe injuries or as general anesthesia for surgeries. Due to fentanyl’s potency, prescription forms are typically designed with extremely slow administration properties, such as that which is found in transdermal patches and lollipops.
Where Street Fentanyl Originates:
Illicit fentanyl s not usually found as a product of drug diversion, but instead, illegally made in China and trafficked through Mexican cartels into the U.S. Sometimes it’s bought and sold on the Internet via the Dark Web.
Fentanyl is commonly laced into heroin or substituted outright for it, in counterfeit pills labeled as other substances, such as Xanax (an anti-anxiety medication) or Vicodin, a prescription analgesic (painkiller.) For this reason, fentanyl users are frequently unaware of its presence, therefore further increasing the risk of an overdose.
Moreover, fentanyl is easier and less expensive to make than heroin, which translates to popularity among dealers to maximize profits.
How Does Fentanyl Work?
Fentanyl, like other psychoactive substances, affects neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for feelings of reward and well-being. As a depressant, fentanyl slows activity in the central nervous system (CNS) resulting in desirable effects such as euphoria and relaxation.
Some Of The Side Effects:
Excessive use, however, can lead to the following adverse effects:
- Extreme drowsiness and oversedation
- Slowed respiration or respiratory distress
- Slowed heart rate
High Potential For Overdose:
Fentanyl use can also result in life-threatening effects as it has a high potential for overdose. Potentially fatal complications of fentanyl abuse include unresponsiveness, coma, respiratory arrest, and death. This condition is especially risky for persons who have not developed a tolerance to the high potency of the drug, which often includes regular heroin users.
If you suspect that you are witnessing an overdose, please call 911 immediately. First responders frequently save lives using naloxone (Narcan), a drug that can reverse opioid-related, life-threatening CNS depression and overdose.
Chronic Abuse, Tolerance, and Dependence:
Long-term fentanyl use can impair judgment and memory. Regular abuse often results in adverse life consequences, such as legal problems, strained relationships, loss of employment, and worsening of underlying mental health conditions such as generalized depression or bipolar disorder.
Tolerance occurs when the body becomes used to the drug’s presence, and increasing amounts of the drug become necessary to achieve the user’s desired effects. The development of tolerance often causes the person to use excessive amounts, thus substantially increasing the risk of an overdose.
Dependence occurs because, over time, the body’s central nervous system becomes unable to function properly without drug use. Upon cessation, users experience highly unpleasant withdrawal effects as their body struggles to regain equilibrium.
Some Withdrawal Symptoms:
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms occur when the individual abruptly stops using the drug. Adverse symptoms may manifest within 24 hours after the last dose, and acute withdrawal usually subsides within a week.
Withdrawal symptoms related to prescription fentanyl can be managed through a physician who can devise a tapering or weaning schedule to reduce the severity of symptoms over a defined period of time.
Many fentanyl users, however, choose to undergo a detox program in an addiction treatment facility, which instead involves constant medical supervision and sometimes medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or suboxone.
Withdrawals, although not typically life-threatening, can be very unpleasant and are one of the primary contributors to relapse.
Withdrawal symptoms may include, but are not limited tot he following:
- Excessive yawning
- Excessive sweating or chills/shivering
- Anxiety and irritability
- Tearing up
- Runny nose and flu-like symptoms
- Back pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Generalized body aches in muscles and joints
Getting Help for Fentanyl Addiction
Whether inpatient or outpatient, treatment often consists of individual and group therapies, counseling, and holistic practices such as mindfulness meditation and nutritional education. Patients are taught how to improve their coping skills and management of reactivity to triggers and stressful life events.
Fentanyl addiction is a lifelong condition, and usually requires long-term support from loved ones and peers. Also, aftercare options include twelve-step meetings such as Narcotics anonymous, sponsorship’s, and drug treatment alumni programs that are often beneficial for this reason.
Takeaways: Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid with a high potential for addiction and overdose. Fentanyl dependence is most effectively treated under the supervision of a qualified detox/addiction treatment facility to avoid relapse, as well as prepare patients for reentry into society and future sustainment of a drug-free lifestyle.