It’s A Hot Commodity In Drug Markets, But What Is Fentanyl?
At this point, it would be harder to find someone in our country who hasn’t heard of fentanyl than it would be to find someone who has. As we continue our fight in the opioid crisis, this new, dangerously powerful drug has taken over and caused a lot of heartbreak. Life is not over though. Despite the power of fentanyl, the damage caused can still be corrected with the right knowledge and commitment to improving their life. Fentanyl has caused a lot of pain throughout our country and it continues to cause more for those caught in its grasp. In 2019, there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Of those 70,000 deaths, nearly 73 percent were from opioid use. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, were the main cause of the high rate. While fentanyl has become a word many of us have added to our vocabulary, many of us still don’t exactly understand what it is or the power it possesses.
A Brief History of Fentanyl
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl was first developed in 1959 and introduced in the 1960s as an anesthetic drug that was given by injection. It was not until the past decade, however, that fentanyl became a dangerous opioid in the illegal drug market. Beginning in 2013, fentanyl started its path of destruction in the United States. A December 2018 report from the CDC examined overdose deaths as a whole in our country. The report confirmed the terrifying growth of fentanyl-related deaths. From 2013-16, the rate of overdoses involving fentanyl doubled every year. By 2016, six out of every 100,000 deaths were due to fentanyl overdose. The rate has grown since then. Fentanyl is anywhere from 75 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s a synthetic opioid painkiller that’s used legally to treat only people with the worst cases of pain, mostly cancer patients.
What Does Fentanyl Look Like?
Fentanyl comes in many different forms and can be taken in many different ways. Most commonly, fentanyl is taken by injecting, snorting/sniffing, smoking, or swallowing it in the form of a pill. On the street, fentanyl is usually sold in combination with other drugs like heroin or cocaine. It’s often in powder form or tablets, and often is added to drugs without the purchaser knowing. Drug dealers often add fentanyl to products because of its strength and the need for very little to give the person using the drug a high similar to other powerful substances. Fentanyl also comes in the form of patches. A fentanyl patch, also known as a transdermal patch, is an opioid pain medication that is best used to treat chronic pain. As a patch, the medication will act around the clock to treat pain. Transdermal patches are not used for mild to moderate pain or pain caused by a procedure or surgery. When used illegally, fentanyl patches are used by removing the contents on the patch and then ingesting them.
Which Doctors Prescribe Fentanyl, and Why Do They?
There are incredibly strict guidelines and regulations for fentanyl prescriptions in the United States due to the power of the drug. Fentanyl is mainly prescribed by doctors who treat cancer patients. It’s usually prescribed in severe situations in which a patient with cancer has “breakthrough pain” despite already being on opioid pain medications related to their cancer.Breakthrough pain is any amount of pain that comes on suddenly and causes issues beyond what the person with cancer is already feeling. The only other times fentanyl is prescribed, even though it’s not common, are in some cases of surgical procedures, or for those who are opioid-tolerant because of their regular use of drugs like morphine. When prescribed, fentanyl comes in one of these forms:
- Lozenges (commonly called lollipops)
- Brand name: Actiq
- Brand names: Fentora, Abstral
- Mouth spray
- Brand name: Subsys
- Nasal spray
- Name brand: Lazanda
- Transdermal patch
- Brand name: Duragesic
The Side Effects of Fentanyl Use
There are two separate angles to looking at the side effects of fentanyl. The first is through the lens of someone who’s been prescribed fentanyl by a doctor. A person prescribed fentanyl for pain will have the same feelings as someone who takes it illegally, but likely to a lesser degree. Since fentanyl is an opioid, it will attach to receptors in the brain and start a chemical reaction that creates a feeling of peace, relaxation, happiness, and comfort. Fentanyl, like any drug that’s prescribed and has been widely tested, comes with a list of side effects as well. They include:
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Unusual dreams/thinking
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Back/chest pain
More seriously, fentanyl can lead to panic because its strength can be too much for a person. When a person has taken too much, they can have serious side effects like:
- Shallow breathing
- Extreme drowsiness
- Irregular heartbeat
Why Is There A Desire For Fentanyl?
As mentioned a few times, fentanyl is incredibly strong — as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. Unfortunately, many people that use illegal drugs don’t seek fentanyl out directly. It’s often mixed into other drugs, usually heroin, to create an even better high for the person using the drug at a much cheaper cost for the drug dealer. Due to fentanyl’s strength, dealers can put a small amount of it into heroin and make a product that will have people coming back for more. Once a person has tried fentanyl and felt the powerful effects, it’s hard to turn them away from the feeling they received. But it’s a double-edged sword. The drug is incredibly strong and gives a high unlike anything else, it also can easily send a person over the edge and into an overdose. Fentanyl is a drug that acts quickly and ends quickly. A lot of people struggling with it go for another dose not realizing they’re still feeling the effects of their last dose. This can easily lead to an overdose. Many also overdose on fentanyl because of polysubstance use. Again, fentanyl is often combined with other substances. In cases where fentanyl is combined with heroin, the person using the drug is given such an intense high that they want to return immediately to it and chase the high. In cases where fentanyl is combined with a stimulant like cocaine, the body is confused by the differing effects, which dampen each other. This can lead the person taking the drugs to use more of one of the two drugs and overdose. The December 2018 CDC report mentioned earlier hit on this with very troubling numbers. It states that 40% of cocaine deaths also involved fentanyl, and 34% of fentanyl deaths also included heroin.
What Does A Fentanyl Overdose Look Like?
While the side effects of fentanyl make a long list, and a scary one at that, the highest risk in terms of side effects is the risk a person runs of overdosing and dying. Overdosing because of fentanyl is incredibly likely for someone who’s been taking the drug for a long period of time. The most important thing is knowing the signs of an overdose so you can get help as soon as possible if it’s happening to your friend or family member. Every second matters when it comes to the likelihood of survival. The most common signs of overdose from fentanyl are:
- Slow, shallow breathing or stopped breathing
- Pinpoint pupils
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a list of other symptoms to look for if you suspect someone has overdosed on opioids of any kind. They are:
- Extremely pale face and damp skin
- Body is limp
- Lips and fingers have turned blue or purple
- Vomiting or making gurgling noises
- Passed out or unable to speak
- Slow heartbeat
Treatment For Fentanyl Use Disorder
Fentanyl addiction treatment is a tall task, as is any treatment for opioid misuse. Facing such a strong drug, it’s easy for the body to become dependent upon its use to function not only daily, but hourly. When there is a worry that someone could overdose, it’s already past time to start considering treatment to get their life back on track. Not only does an addiction to fentanyl cause health concerns, but it will wreak havoc on a person’s social life, work life, family life, and mental state. Unfortunately, though the desire is there for many, quitting cold turkey from fentanyl and other opioids is a nearly impossible thing to achieve. Because of fentanyl’s strength, a person will quickly return to using without truly giving recovery a shot because of the brutal withdrawal symptoms that come with it. If a person finds success early on in quitting alone, the success can be derailed quickly with the slightest urge and put them at an increased risk of overdose as their tolerance for the drug has decreased. When someone is ready to give up the daily struggles and hassles that come with a fentanyl addiction, it’s important to get help from a treatment center that can offer you:
- Personalized treatment plans
- Detox services, or at least referrals to detox centers
- A small staff-to-patient ratio
- Low out-of-pocket cost
- A track record of success
For those in Washington State, there is a clear option that provides all of those.
Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Seattle
Northpoint Seattle, Washington, is an outpatient addiction treatment center and part of the Northpoint Recovery family. When patients come to Northpoint Seattle for help with their addiction, step one is finding a detox center that will work with us to help get you clean and give your body a refreshed and new start. From there, you will return to us to begin your outpatient treatment. Our program is designed to give each patient a unique experience that is tailored to their exact needs. There are three levels to outpatient programming. Traditional outpatient: A patient will be required to be in the facility for 4-6 hours a week for treatment, which typically involves counseling and group therapy sessions. Intensive outpatient: Requires a 10- to 15-hour-a-week commitment. Includes therapy and group therapy sessions. Partial hospitalization: The most stringent form of care offered by Northpoint Seattle. Patients will spend about 30 hours at the treatment center across five days in the week. Time will be spent doing therapeutic activities that will help them reach long-term recovery. Services at Northpoint Seattle are affordable as we work with most major insurance companies.
Call Today To Begin the Journey To Recovery
Taking the first step toward recovery is half the battle. It takes courage to step to the plate and admit the time has come to get help. We are ready at all hours of the day and night to hear from you about your desire to reclaim your life or your desire to see your loved one reclaim their life. We want to hear from you even if you just have questions about who we are and what we offer. Call us today at 425.414.3530 or fill out a form to get started with our admission team. FAQs: What is the fentanyl patch used for? A fentanyl patch, also known as a transdermal patch, is used to provide opioid pain medication for treating chronic pain. As a patch, the medication will act around the clock to treat pain. Transdermal patches ARE NOT used for mild to moderate pain or pain caused by a procedure or surgery. What is fentanyl citrate used for? Fentanyl citrate is a pain medication used to treat pain from cancer. Technically, it should only be used to treat “breakthrough pain” in cancer patients who are already receiving opioid medication for chronic pain related to their cancer. Breakthrough pain is any amount of pain that comes on suddenly and causes issues beyond what the person with cancer is already feeling. Fentanyl citrate should not be used in treating anything not cancer-related. It should not be used by anyone who is not already on around-the-clock opioid pain medicine. What is fentanyl used for in surgery? Fentanyl is used as part of anesthesia that puts the patient to sleep during surgery and also reduces and prevents pain that is caused by the surgery or procedure being done. It’s given as an injection through infusion into the patient’s vein. While receiving fentanyl for surgery, it’s important that your vital signs be closely monitored by a healthcare professional.