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Options for Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world today. In a legitimate medical setting, the powerful opioid drug fentanyl is prescribed to people who suffer from chronic, severe pain. However, fentanyl is all too often sold illegally and has also become a widely available street drug over the last few decades. Learning what fentanyl is and its effects on the people who use it are key to understanding what makes fentanyl addiction so dangerous.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports there were 28,400 overdose deaths in 2018 that were attributed to the use of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. In New Hampshire alone, there were a reported 386 synthetic opioid deaths that same year. When it comes to preventable opioid overdose deaths, the loss of one member of the community is too many.
What Is the Drug Fentanyl?
While some opioid drugs, such as heroin and morphine, are made from natural sources such as the opium poppy, fentanyl is a completely manmade opioid. The drug was first created in a lab in 1960 by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen of Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Since its creation, fentanyl has always been marketed and intended for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. It’s one of only a handful of opioid painkillers that are widely approved of for the treatment of long-term, chronic pain. Many times, people who suffer from this type of long-term condition have formed a tolerance to less powerful opioids, leaving fentanyl as one of the only options that can help with severe pain.
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful opioid drugs available today. In fact, fentanyl is believed to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Because of how powerful it is, as well as its widespread availability, it has become a widely misused street drug over the last couple of decades.
Despite its notoriety as an extremely dangerous street drug, fentanyl is still prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain under the brand names Sublimaze, Actiq, and Duragesic. When the drug is prescribed by a doctor, it’s commonly administered as an injection, in pill form, or as an adhesive patch.
As an illicit street drug, fentanyl can be sold and consumed in any number of forms. Most commonly, fentanyl is sold in powder form. This powder can even be pressed into pills that are sold as counterfeit versions of other opioid drugs such as Vicodin or OxyContin. Fentanyl in powder form can also be dissolved and dropped onto paper tabs and sold much like LSD. In very dangerous cases, fentanyl is mixed with or sold as fake heroin.
The biggest risk for overdose occurs when someone thinks they’re buying one drug, such as Vicodin or heroin, and it’s actually a counterfeit version laced with fentanyl. The drug is very often mixed with heroin to increase the heroin’s strength. These situations often lead to an unintended opioid overdose and can even result in death.
Fentanyl (and fentanyl-laced heroin) goes by many names on the street. Some of these names include:
- China White
- China Girl
- Dance Fever
- Tango & Cash
Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction
For someone who has no tolerance to opioids, it takes only 2 milligrams of fentanyl to cause a fatal overdose. To help put this in perspective, it’s believed a lethal morphine overdose occurs when the person takes 200 milligrams. That means fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.
Because fentanyl is so potent, overdosing on it is a common occurrence for regular users of the drug. Educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction can mean the difference between life and death for you or a loved one.
Fentanyl is an opioid, so the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction will be similar to those of other opioid addictions. These may include the compulsive use of fentanyl and other opioid drugs, intense drug cravings, impaired judgment regarding the drug, and the continued use of fentanyl despite obvious negative consequences and harm.
Because it has such profound effects on its users, fentanyl is likely to cause signs of use that are easy to identify. Some of these signs may include:
- Trouble staying awake, drowsiness, and “nodding off”
- Confusion and disorientation
- Constipation and other digestive problems
- Noticeable redness or flushing of the skin, intense sweating, and overheating
- Difficult, slowed, or labored breathing
- Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
Along with these signs of use, someone suffering from an addiction to fentanyl may also show some general behavioral signs of addiction. Some of these behavioral signs may include:
- Using the drug to avoid opioid withdrawal symptoms
- Constantly thinking about fentanyl use
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit using the drug
- Increased tolerance to the drug beginning to form
- Increased isolation and the avoidance of social events in order to use the drug
One important thing to remember is that many people who use fentanyl started by using other opioids first, prescribed or otherwise. Over time, people who use opioids will start to develop a physical tolerance to the drug, meaning they will have to use it more frequently, and in higher dosages, to achieve the desired effect.
Because fentanyl is much more potent than other opioids, people who suffer from addiction to other opioids may seek out fentanyl if they’ve developed a high tolerance to their initial drug of choice. This situation is all too common and can lead to opioid overdose and death.
Being aware of these signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction is very important as it takes a very small dose of the drug to be lethal. Every time a person uses fentanyl, it could potentially be their last. It’s very important to consider treatment options immediately.
After an extended period of regular opioid use, the body begins to adjust to the constant presence of the drug. This is what’s known as physical dependence. If the person stops using opioids suddenly, there are many physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
How long a person has been using the drug, the method of use, and the amount that was used each time are all factors that can affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that can have negative effects on essential central nervous system functions such as body temperature regulation, breathing rate, and heart rate.
Fentanyl works by interacting with the brain at sites known as opioid receptors. This interaction tells the brain to release unnatural amounts of the chemicals responsible for pleasure. After fentanyl has been used habitually for a period of time, the brain starts to adjust to this newfound source of pleasure chemicals and stops producing them on its own. When fentanyl use is stopped suddenly, the body and brain are left to readjust, leading to all of the negative symptoms of withdrawal.
How severe withdrawal symptoms will be and how long they will last will vary from person to person, but there are some symptoms that are experienced by everyone. These symptoms range from mild to severe. Opioid withdrawal is not generally believed to be life-threatening, but the symptoms are described as being extremely uncomfortable. Some of the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:
- Intestinal issues such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Intense agitation, irritability, and restlessness
- Sweating, goosebumps, and tremors
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Anxiety, depression, and difficulty experiencing pleasure or positive feelings
- Intense cravings for the drug
Taking Control of Your Fentanyl Addiction at Addiction Recovery Services
Whether you’re beginning or continuing your recovery, the intensive outpatient program (IOP) here at Addiction Recovery Services (ARS) can help guide you. Recovery is already complex and scary, so getting started with it shouldn’t be.
Our goal here is to always have the resources someone needs to steer their life in the direction they know it should be going. So much of the struggle with addiction is also a struggle with control. IOP at ARS is set up to help everyone involved achieve control again.
Choosing outpatient rehab can be the first step someone takes toward recovery, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just as viable as a next step for someone who has completed an inpatient rehab program already.
If you or someone you know is ready to begin recovery, let us know. ARS has multiple pathways to recovery, each defined and chosen by what the person in recovery needs. Give us a call at 978-228-5853 and let’s see about starting you on the way to recovery.
What is fentanyl used for?
In a medical setting, fentanyl is typically prescribed for the long-term treatment of moderate to severe chronic pain. Because of its strength and availability, it’s also a commonly misused and incredibly dangerous street drug.
How strong is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a dangerously powerful opioid drug that is believed to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It takes only 2 milligrams of fentanyl to kill a person.
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