As more states crack down on opioid prescriptions, many addicts have turned to getting their drugs on the street. These black-market opioids are often laced with fentanyl, an incredibly powerful – and deadly – substance. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was once relatively unknown outside of hospitals. Fentanyl-related overdoses were nearly unheard of only a few years ago, but now, some experts consider fentanyl to be on the leading edge of the next wave of the opioid crisis.
What Is Fentanyl?
In 2016, musical pioneer Prince died of a fentanyl overdose at his home, a preventable tragedy that drew the nation’s attention to this lethal drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine. For most people, a dose as small as two milligrams is enough to kill them.
Because fentanyl is man-made, it’s usually cheaper and easier to obtain than other plant-based drugs like heroin and cocaine, which is why many drug dealers use fentanyl to cut batches of other drugs to make them go further. Fentanyl binds more completely to opioid receptors in the brain than most other opiates do, which is what makes it so powerful and so potentially deadly. Drug distributors use it, often without users’ knowledge, to get people hooked more quickly and keep them coming back for larger doses.
As the DEA reports, whether sold as a powder or mixed into other drugs, illicit black-market fentanyl is the driving force behind the dramatic rise in overdose deaths related to the drug in recent years. Unfortunately, people who unwittingly take a fentanyl-laced drug are much more likely to overdose and die, which is what makes fentanyl use far more dangerous than other opioids.
How do people use Fentanyl?
Fentanyl can be given by a doctor as a shot for chronic pain, a fentanyl patch applied to a person’s skin, or as lozenges sucked like cough drops. Fentanyl, the illicit drug most often associated with recent overdoses, is manufactured in laboratories. Oftentimes, synthetic fentanyl is sold illegally as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, sold in nasal sprays and eye droppers, or in pills that resemble prescription opioids.
Unfortunately, it is common for drug dealers to mix fentanyl with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. As a result, fentanyl is a more affordable option since it takes a relatively small amount to produce a high. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous when people do not realize it can be found in cheap but dangerous drugs as an additive. The opioids they are taking might be stronger than their bodies are used to, putting them at risk for overdose.
When an individual a drug overdoses on fentanyl, they will experience extreme adverse effects and life-threatening symptoms. They will experience a decrease in the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Comas and permanent brain damage are possible complications of hyperoxia.
Genetic predisposition may lead to dependence on opioids like fentanyl. Among the best examples of this are the children of alcoholics. According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, children who have non-alcoholic parents are three to four times more likely to become dependent on a substance than adults.
Those with health issues may also be at risk. Fentanyl is often abused by those who use it to treat pain. Physical ailments aren’t the only cause of health problems.
In addition, people with mental illnesses are more likely to engage in substance abuse as a way of self-medicating the symptoms of their mental diseases. Most addicts deal with addiction as a physical issue in addition to psychological issues. When the brain is abused for a long time with fentanyl, it becomes dysfunctional. The brain starts to malfunction when opioids are abused since dopamine receptors cannot function effectively without opioid stimulation.
Signs of a Fentanyl Overdose
Fentanyl users can inhale, smoke, swallow or inject it. For even more rapid effects, it is even possible to absorb the drug through skin-to-skin contact. Because it is an opioid drug, fentanyl intoxication can cause intense euphoria while simultaneously affecting the central nervous system as a depressant. The effects of fentanyl use can mimic those of alcohol intoxication initially, but the symptoms can decline rapidly. A fentanyl overdose can occur within minutes of exposure to the drug, so recognizing the following signs and calling 911 immediately can mean the difference between life and death.
Signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse include:
- Dilated pupils
- Cold, clammy skin
- Blue lips, nails, and skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slow pulse
- A drop in blood pressure
- Respiratory depression
- Weak heart rate
- Muscle weakness or limpness
- Trouble with balance/coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory failure
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
Fentanyl withdrawal “cold turkey” can be painful, even if it is rarely life-threatening. When a person suffering from a Fentanyl addiction ceases taking the drug or reduces their dosage, they are likely to suffer painful withdrawal symptoms.
Fentalyn withdrawal symptoms include:
- Pain in the joints, muscles, and bones
- Runny nose and sweating
- Constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea
- High blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Tears in the eyes and dilated pupils
- Hyperreflexia and cramping muscles
- Fever, chills, or goosebumps
Abusing or becoming addicted to fentanyl has many negative side effects for users. There are several ways to treat withdrawal and support long-term recovery, including detox and therapy programs. Treatment lasting for a year or longer could help people to build resistance to the urge to abuse this powerful drug.
American citizens abuse prescription opioid pain relievers at a high rate. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that over 2 million people reported abusing them in 2012. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 169,868 of those people sought treatment.
Get Help for an Opioid Addiction
If you or someone you care about needs to seek help for an opioid misuse disorder, medical detox is the first step in successfully achieving lasting sobriety and rebuilding your life. As Southern California’s leading drug and alcohol detox facility, we help clients from all walks of life comfortably complete detoxification before transitioning smoothly into the next phase of their recovery. Contact us today to learn more.