Everything About Fentanyl

The Truth About Fentanyl: What Is It?

The first step in being able to help yourself or those that you love during a fentanyl overdose is to know what fentanyl is and what a fentanyl overdose looks like. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is lab created and is among the most common drugs that cause death by overdose. Fentanyl identification can be difficult as it can come in many forms.

When prescribed pharmaceutically, it is usually in the form of a patch, or a pill, or can be injected. However, as an illicit drug, it comes in the form of liquid, or powder, or is packed into a pill that resembles a different opioid drug.

The danger of fentanyl identification is that, when in powder form, it resembles other drugs such as cocaine or heroin. This is one of the reasons why fentanyl overdose occurs. Since fentanyl can look like other drugs when in certain forms, it is being mixed in with drugs like cocaine and heroin and can lead to an unintentional fentanyl overdose.

This occurs because whoever is buying the drug thinks it is cocaine or OxyContin, but it’s fentanyl or a drug riddled with fentanyl, which leads them to an unintentional overdose from using the laced drug as they would have used the drug they thought they were buying. Fentanyl can’t be tasted or smelled so it makes it impossible to tell if the drugs being purchased are laced.

Since fentanyl can disguise itself, you won’t be able to tell that whatever drug is being purchased contains fentanyl unless you test the drugs. A test strip is an inexpensive way to ensure that the drugs don’t contain fentanyl with results in five minutes.

By testing the drugs, a fentanyl overdose can potentially be prevented, but the tests still may not be 100% accurate. Unintentional fentanyl overdose occurs often and sometimes results in the death of someone that was just trying to have their version of fun at a party with a line of what they thought was cocaine.

How Does a Fentanyl Overdose Happen?

A fentanyl overdose happens when too much fentanyl is ingested. Fentanyl is more powerful than heroin by over 50 times and about 100 times more potent than morphine.

Because fentanyl is so strong, it doesn’t take much to cause an overdose that can be fatal.

If the individual using fentanyl is new to opioid use in general and hasn’t built up a tolerance, just two milligrams of fentanyl is too much.

Two milligrams aren’t much considering it takes 200 milligrams of morphine for an overdose to occur. That’s how powerful fentanyl is.

Fentanyl Kills: The Truth In Numbers

When fentanyl is obtained as an illicit substance, the risk of overdose increases. Each day, there are over 150 people that die from overdoses caused by opioids like fentanyl.

In the United States, there was a report of 92,000 deaths by overdose and 74.8% of those deaths were from opioid use like fentanyl. In the state of New Hampshire, there was a report of 393 deaths in 2020 related to synthetic opioid overdose.

WARNING! Ways To Spot A Potential Fentanyl Overdose

Step 1: Determine If Someone Is Struggling With a Fentanyl Addiction

A way to determine early signs of a potential fentanyl overdose is to determine signs of fentanyl addiction. When someone is using fentanyl, it can change their behavior and affect them mentally and physically.

A lack of motivation, not wanting to go out and do things, no longer hanging out with friends, not caring about their responsibilities like work or family, and focusing on using fentanyl over doing anything else are all behavioral signs of fentanyl addiction. Fentanyl addiction can also be spotted if the person consuming fentanyl now has trouble remembering things, has poor judgment, has thoughts of self-harm or suicide, lack their usual motor skills, have trouble sleeping, and is groggy most of the time.

Step 2: Learn the Early Signs and Symptoms

A fentanyl overdose can happen within a matter of seconds to minutes due to the potency of the drug. However, sometimes there are a few early signs of a potential fentanyl overdose to look for.

If you can notice these early signs and symptoms, you may be able to prevent overdose by administering Narcan yourself and allowing the medical responders to get there quickly to assist.

Here are the early symptoms that you can look for in a potential fentanyl overdose:

  • The person is conscious but is suddenly slurring their speech or is unable to talk
  • The individual starts to look pale or get red
  • They start going in and out of consciousness
  • Their breathing slows significantly
  • Their heart rate becomes irregular

Fentanyl Overdose: The Signs, Symptoms, and Aftermath

You can determine if someone is overdosing on fentanyl if they are unresponsive, have a slow breathing rate, are not breathing at all, become unconscious, or have constricted pupils. Someone overdosing on fentanyl could also become clammy or cold to the touch. They could also be sweating profusely.

Don’t Panic! What You Can Do in The Event of an Overdose

If you believe that someone is going through a fentanyl overdose, immediately call 911, and if you have it, administer Narcan as soon as possible. Narcan is available at most pharmacies in the state of New Hampshire and is free without needing to be prescribed. If you or someone you love is an opioid user, it wouldn’t hurt to keep Narcan on hand.

If you know CPR and the individual has stopped breathing, perform CPR until help arrives. Since the person who is experiencing the overdose is likely unconscious or not functioning as normal, try to take notes about what is happening.

Make a note of the time that they started to experience their overdose. If you were there when they took fentanyl or a drug that may have been laced with fentanyl, try to remember the time of when they took it, how much, and the form in which it was ingested.

The Aftermath of a Fentanyl Overdose

Someone that has suffered from an overdose and survives because of Narcan and a Naloxone infusion will be monitored in the hospital for a day. An opioid like fentanyl can continue to cause respiratory depression and sedation after the Naloxone infusion has been administered due to the potency of fentanyl and the infusion only being effective for one hour.

A fentanyl overdose can also cause a potential acute lung injury which is why hospitals will keep the individual so they can monitor them. Someone that overdoses can also develop side effects from overdose such as seizures, cardiac issues, depression, infections, recurring pneumonia, bowel syndromes, and withdrawal issues.

Could You or a Friend Be at Risk of a Fentanyl Overdose?

Anyone who misuses Fentanyl or buys illicit drugs is at risk for a fentanyl overdose. Whether you plan to buy fentanyl specifically on the street or not, your other drug of choice may be laced with it anyway and can put you at risk.

Some individuals are more sensitive to the effects that fentanyl causes due to certain health conditions which can lead to overdose. For instance, adults that are aged 65 and up, those who have respiratory issues such as asthma or sleep apnea, or those with health conditions that cause them to lack strength or energy.

There are also risk factors in those who have health conditions that might lead to misuse which can lead to overdose. These individuals are those who struggle with their mental health such as those battling depression, anxiety, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They’re also young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, as well as individuals who have a prior history of alcohol or substance abuse.

Fentanyl Exposure Risks for First Responders

When an overdose call is made to first responders, they will likely encounter the illicit drug. In this case, due to fentanyl having many forms of ingestion, some steps can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure among first responders.

When responding to a call about an overdose, they should put nitrile gloves on immediately upon arrival before touching anyone or anything. Fentanyl can be used in the form of a liquid, if it gets onto the skin it can soak into your pores or if you touch it with your hands and then touch your face, mouth, eyes, nose, etc., there is a chance that you may be exposed to the consumption of fentanyl.

By wearing gloves, that risk is greatly reduced. Proper personal protective equipment should be worn in case fentanyl enters the air. They should immediately wash their hands after being in contact with fentanyl even if they wore gloves and should make sure that all open wounds are covered.

However, we do want to make clear that the news stories about someone overdosing on fentanyl by coming into physical contact and absorbing through the skin or breathing in particles are inaccurate. While it’s always best to be cautious, we don’t want to give the false impression that there is any significant danger from simple contact if not ingested.

Are There Higher Risk Factors for a Fentanyl Overdose?

Several factors put people at a higher risk for fentanyl overdose. Risk factors that increase the risk for fentanyl overdose include a change in an individual’s tolerance from decreasing the amount of fentanyl they use, a change in the quality of the fentanyl, mixing alcohol or other drugs with the use of fentanyl, mixing fentanyl with stimulants, lacking proper nutrition or having health issues, and having a prior overdose.

Breaking Down the Most Common Symptoms of a Fentanyl Overdose

There are three key signs of a fentanyl overdose to look for. The first sign is slowed breathing.

This is known as opioid-induced respiratory depression and is a common first symptom of overdose. The only way to treat opioid-induced respiratory depression is to administer a naloxone infusion in the hospital.

However, Narcan, which is the nasal spray version of naloxone, is available to adults in most pharmacies in New Hampshire and can still be used during an overdose to stabilize the individual until they get to a hospital.

The second sign is feeling extremely dizzy or confused. The third common sign of a fentanyl overdose is being unresponsive or not being able to wake up which is a result of a reduced heart rate and slow breathing.

Take Action! Finding Treatment for Fentanyl Use

What Are Fentanyl Withdrawals Like?

A fentanyl withdrawal occurs when someone stops using fentanyl after using it regularly and experiences a list of symptoms known as fentanyl withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include diarrhea, sweating, depression, irritability, etc. You can learn more about the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawals.

Fentanyl withdrawals can be difficult for some people to deal with alone, and they don’t have to. There are many facilities like ours here at Addiction Recovery Services that provide treatment for those who reside in New Hampshire.

We can help with battling the symptoms of withdrawal and set you or someone you love up on a path to recovery. You can call our number, 978-228-5853 at any time to learn about recovery options and how we can help with symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal.

The Unpleasant Side Effects of Fentanyl Use

While fentanyl is used to treat pain pharmaceutically or bring an extremely happy sensation illicitly, there are several side effects of fentanyl that come with use. One common side effect of fentanyl is muscular fatigue or weakness. Fentanyl can also cause drowsiness, stomach issues, and difficulty breathing.

Treatment Options

Fentanyl treatment options are available in all states and consist of a variety of options. There are inpatient and outpatient options, as well as hotlines to call and groups to join.

If you reside here in the state of New Hampshire, you can start or continue your recovery here at Addiction Recovery Services (ARSNH) with our intensive outpatient program. There are many resources at ARSNH that can help everyone throughout every step of their recovery journey.

Call us at  978-228-5853 if you live in the state of New Hampshire and want to get started on the path to recovery with fentanyl treatment.

FAQs About Fentanyl Overdose

What do I do if I believe someone overdosed on fentanyl?

If you believe someone overdosed on fentanyl, urgently call 911. If you have access to Narcan and feel comfortable administering it, do so immediately after calling 911. If the individual isn’t breathing and you know CPR, begin compressions until medical responders arrive.

How do I prevent fentanyl overdose?

By getting educated about fentanyl and the risks of using it, you can help prevent fentanyl overdose. Learn about how fentanyl can be found in other drugs, the risks of buying fentanyl illicitly, and the signs on how to spot fentanyl addiction.

It’s important to know the risks of fentanyl overdose and to learn about Naloxone and Narcan. It’s also important to know that recovery is possible and there are several treatment options to get you on the road to recovery.

How can fentanyl overdose symptoms be treated?

The best way to treat fentanyl overdose symptoms is to seek medical help. Narcan can help to treat the symptoms temporarily until medical responders arrive. Once in their care, the overdose will likely be treated with a Naloxone infusion and the patient will be monitored for 24 hours.

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