In recent years, there has been mounting concern over America’s deadly opioid epidemic.
Every day more than 115 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids.
In 2017 the U.S. experienced an estimated 72,000 deaths due to opioid overdoses. Nearly 30,000 of these deaths involved a powerful drug known as fentanyl.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic. It’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is a schedule II prescription medication often used to treat patients suffering from chronic, severe pain.
Most of the reported cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdoses, and deaths have been linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl. It’s popular on the street-drug market for producing effects similar to heroin.
How Is It Taken?
Fentanyl is administered by medical professionals as an injection. The prescription drug is also given to patients in the form of a transdermal patch or as lozenges.
Most of the fentanyl supply linked to the recent surge in overdoses is created in clandestine laboratories. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is snorted, injected, or taken via blotter paper and absorbed by mucous membranes in the mouth.
Who Takes It?
In its prescription form, fentanyl is taken by patients suffering from chronic, severe pain. Often it’s prescribed to patients who are afflicted with cancer. It’s also prescribed for patients recovering from surgery and those whose pain symptoms are physically tolerant to other types of pain medications.
Many of the people who become addicted to fentanyl and other street-forms of opioid drugs are shown to have abused prescription opiates before turning to illegal opiates. In fact, 80% of heroin users have a prior history of abusing prescription opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Nationally, fentanyl user-statistics tend to be higher in large cities.
The Midwestern region of the United States appears to be hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis. Between July 2016 and September 2017, opioid overdoses increased in this region by 70%. During this same time, in 45 other states, opioid overdoses increased by 30%.
A Brief History of Fentanyl
Fentanyl was introduced in 1960 as a patient alternative for those who couldn’t tolerate morphine-oxygen anesthesia/pain medication. Despite its potential for cardiovascular stimulation and depression, respiratory depression, muscle rigidity, and possible incomplete anesthesia, it was approved as a narcotic anesthetic.
In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies convinced the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid prescription medications. As a result, physicians began prescribing opioids to large numbers of their patients who suffered from pain symptoms. This led to a rise in opioid addiction in the U.S., to both prescription and non-prescription forms of the drug.
When more users began suffering from opioid use disorders, treatment facilities and programs were unable to keep up. With users’ treatment options either limited or unavailable, opioid abuse continued to persist at alarming rates.
Fentanyl Effects on the Body
Fentanyl’s effects on its users are similar to the effects caused by heroin use. It impacts the part of the brain that controls pain and emotions. It can also have effects on one’s physical health and wellbeing.
Effects on the Mind and Body
Fentanyl may cause the following feelings and/or side-effects in its users:
Long and Short-Term Health Effects
Fentanyl has been proven to have a high potential for overdose. This is especially true when users are unaware that they’re taking the drug or of the potential risks associated with its use.
The short-term effects from fentanyl include:
- Mood swings
- Constipation and digestion issues
- Addiction — which may be either short or long-term, depending on the individual
- Respiratory problems
The long-term effects of fentanyl can be deadly. It can lead to respiratory issues and depressed breathing. Eventually, breathing can slow to the point that it stops.
It can also cause cardiovascular damage, both immediate and long-term.
Fentanyl users who take more than prescribed or take the street form of the drug are at a greater risk of overdosing. There have been many reports of users who have experienced unconsciousness, comas, and death caused by fentanyl.
Using Fentanyl with Other Drugs
Fentanyl is often used in combination with other drugs, especially when it’s sold on the street.
Since users tend to seek out potent “batches,” these combinations often create increased profits for the dealers.
And, mixing drugs doesn’t only increase potency, but it can also prove cost-efficient for dealers as well. Mixing more expensive drugs with fentanyl allows a dealer’s “batch” to go even further. This motivates sales and increases the dealer’s return.
But, the consequences of combining drugs with fentanyl have proven to be deadly.
Common Drugs Used With Fentanyl
Drug dealers often mix fentanyl with heroin, cocaine, and other drugs to increase their potency. They then sell these mixtures to users, who may be unaware that the drugs they’re receiving contain fentanyl. This has been the case with many of the overdoses which involved fentanyl mixed with heroin and other substances.
Overdose statistics show an overwhelming amount of deaths caused by combinations involving fentanyl, specifically with benzodiazepine drugs, heroin, and other opiates.
Drinking alcohol in combination with fentanyl may also result in increased consequences. This includes slowed breathing, seizures, and other side effects.
Learn More About the Dangers of Drug Abuse and Addiction
Awareness is key in the fight against drug abuse and addiction. Fentanyl abuse is rampant, but it doesn’t have to be. Help is available.
If you or someone you love is abusing fentanyl, there are treatment options that fit your needs. Contact one of our addiction specialists to find out more about your treatment options.