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CDC Confirms Fentanyl Is the Deadliest Drug in America

a person talks to a therapist about Fentanyl Abuse

In a recently published report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has concluded that fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America. According to research conducted by the CDC, fentanyl is involved in more overdose deaths than any other drug.  Alarmingly, it’s getting much worse. Unfortunately, fentanyl abuse is not always the primary reason for the danger since many people take the drug accidentally.

At Northpoint Seattle, we are committed to helping everyone whose life has been impacted by this deadly drug. We offer a variety of support services, including counseling, fentanyl addiction treatment, and educational resources. We understand that it can be challenging to ask for help, but we are here to provide you with the support you need. Call 888.483.6031 to find help at our Washington center today.

deadliest drug america

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that was first created in 1960 by Dr. Paul Janssen, one of the most celebrated chemists in the world. As a medication, fentanyl has several legitimate uses:

  • It is usually prescribed for acute pain that other methods or medications cannot control.
  • Most frequently, it is given for severe end-of-life pain, such as that experienced by terminal cancer patients.
  • It is also used by paramedics as an emergency painkiller for extraordinary injuries. 
  • When combined with certain other drugs, fentanyl can also be used as an anesthetic during surgery.

Because of the variety of applications, fentanyl is the most widely-used synthetic opioid painkiller in medicine. This means that when it is used properly, fentanyl is considered to be an exceptionally safe and effective drug. Interestingly, it does not “block” pain. Instead, it changes how the person perceives their pain—which can lead to a heightened risk of fentanyl abuse.

what is fentanyl

Types of Prescription Fentanyl

Prescription fentanyl is dispensed under several brand names, including:

  • Abstral
  • Actiq
  • Duragesic
  • Lonsys
  • Sublimaze

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than pure, laboratory-grade heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Some fentanyl analogs, such as carfentanil, are up to 10,000 times more potent. It is important to note that while fentanyl has legitimate medical applications, none of the 12 analogs identified so far have a medically valid use in humans. For example, carfentanil is used to sedate large animals such as elephants.

fentanyl brands

Where Does Fentanyl Come from?

Fentanyl’s potency, along with a cheap and easy manufacturing process, has made the drug a popular and profitable product for foreign cartels. Although some fentanyl medication is diverted for misuse, most fentanyl in America is made illicitly in clandestine laboratories, primarily in China.

It is estimated that 90% of the illicit fentanyl in this country was originally manufactured in unauthorized labs in China. From there, it is smuggled into the United States or Mexico, usually through the mail. Between 2016 and 2017, the amount of illicit fentanyl seized by U.S. agents more than doubled. Specifically, 75% of those seizures were made at international mail facilities. Some of the methods used to smuggle fentanyl into the United States through the mail system include:

  • Purposefully mislabeling shipments as a detergent or some other harmless product
  • Gift-wrapping the package
  • Putting the fentanyl inside the silica packages that typically accompany other goods

But the most prominent way that illicit drug manufacturers circumvent international laws is simply by slightly altering their production process. With their modified chemical structure, these new drugs are not legally considered controlled substances under Chinese or American law.

deadly fentanyl

How Does Fentanyl Kill?

All opioids are central nervous system depressants—they lower heart rate, blood pressure, and, especially, breathing rate. At high enough dosages, the cause of death is respiratory depression. In essence, the person “forgets” to breathe. This deadly effect is greatly magnified if the user has also consumed alcohol, benzodiazepine tranquilizers, or other opioids.

Fentanyl is so powerful that an amount the size of just six grains of salt can kill a full-grown man. Here are the warning signs of a fentanyl overdose:

  • Blueish or grayish lips, skin, or fingertips
  • Snoring, gasping, or gurgling sounds – Also known as the “death rattle”
  • Extreme muscle rigidity to the point of seizures
  • Foaming coming from the mouth
  • Confusion or odd behavior
  • Slowed, shallow breathing
  • Weak, barely-detectable pulse
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Pinpointed pupils
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma

fentanyl overdose

Fentanyl: More Powerful than Narcan

The standard emergency first aid for any suspected opioid overdose is to immediately administer Narcan (naloxone), the opioid overdose reversal drug that restores breathing. Narcan is extremely easy to use, so even bystanders can be lifesavers. But fentanyl can affect breathing so profoundly that it may take multiple applications of Narcan to successfully revive the overdose victim. While there is a major national push to make Narcan more widely available to everyone, it still is not very likely that someone will have multiple doses on hand.

While first responders will have multiple doses, they may not always know to administer them. Narcan has no effect on drugs other than opioids. So if a person is overdosing on fentanyl labeled as Xanax—a benzodiazepine—paramedics may not immediately give Narcan, which can mean the difference between life and death.

fentanyl powerful narcan

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Seattle

At Northpoint Seattle, we offer a comprehensive outpatient treatment program for individuals suffering from fentanyl abuse. Our experienced and dedicated team of counselors and clinicians provides individualized treatment plans to meet the needs of each patient. We recognize that everyone has different needs and goals for their recovery, so we strive to create a customized treatment plan that will help the patient achieve sobriety. Contact us online or call 888.483.6031 to get started today.

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cdc confirms fentanyl is the deadliest drug in america