To understand the basic nature of fentanyl addiction and abuse, and the great danger it poses, we first have to consider what we mean by “addiction” and “abuse.” Start by understanding these terms, explained below.

The word “addiction” can mean many different things to different people. A common, and useful, understanding of drug addiction within the drug addiction treatment community can be described as “the repeated use of a substance despite the continued substantial harm it causes”.

While initial use of the substance is typically sought out because it is a pleasurable experience, continued and habitual use is not necessarily associated at all with the same pleasurable experience.

Addiction is also often characterized by the physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms of chemical dependency.

The word “abuse” is also important, because often times the same drug or substance can be beneficial in many ways when utilized as medically prescribed. 

For example, fentanyl has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a painkiller and anesthetic.

Abuse of a substance occurs when its use has harmful and problematic results, and when use is out of control. In the case of fentanyl, being a very powerful opioid, medical professionals agree that unprescribed use of any kind is a form of abuse. 

Read on for an understanding of the nature of fentanyl addiction and abuse and the very serious dangers it poses.

Fentanyl Addiction Statistics

Fentanyl addiction and abuse begins both with medically legitimate prescribed use and illicit use. Often, a person will take something laced with fentanyl without even being aware of it. Fentanyl is often mixed with other opioid and non-opioid street drugs.

Since addiction to fentanyl exists without knowledge of it, statistical data demonstrating the problem is most clearly illustrated by the dramatic numbers of fentanyl-related deaths. 

General stats on Addiction to Fentanyl

In 2016, the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) released a comparative report of illicit drug use trends over more than the past decade nationwide. The report gave important insight into the growing problem of fentanyl abuse and addiction in the U.S.

This report showed that fentanyl abuse is more common in the Eastern United States than in the Western U.S.

At NDEWS monitored sites in 2015, 27% of Philadelphia’s drug-related deaths, and 32% of Maine’s involved fentanyl. Also, in Maine, 10.9% of all drug paraphernalia tested by law enforcement was positive for fentanyl that year.

The study also showed that fentanyl abuse is a quickly and dramatically worsening problem.

In Southeastern Florida, fentanyl-related deaths increased 502% from 2012 to 2015.

In Philadelphia, fentanyl was involved in 27% of all alcohol and/or drug intoxication deaths, up from just 16% the year before.

In New York City, fentanyl was involved in 16% of all drug overdose deaths, up from only 3% 10 years earlier.

In Michigan’s Wayne County (Detroit area), fentanyl-related deaths increased 10 times from 2013-2015.  

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016, the number of drug-related deaths involving fentanyl had increased by 540% in the previous three years.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, while fentanyl addiction, abuse, and overdose rates have steadily increased nationwide, the overdose death rate more than doubled in Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia, New York, Vermont, and Connecticut in 2016, and more than tripled in Illinois, Maryland, and Washington D.C.

Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse

As mentioned earlier, medical professionals would agree that any unprescribed use of fentanyl is a form of abuse. Given the danger of its resulting effects, this makes a lot of sense and shouldn’t be ignored.

But, there are many cases of fentanyl abuse which begin with prescribed use. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychological Association, provides 11 criteria for the diagnosis of Opioid Use Disorder.

Some key criteria can be summarized as:

  • Use in greater quantity and for longer than initially intended
  • Persistent desire to use
  • Inability to control use
  • Failure to meet professional and personal responsibilities
  • Increase of interpersonal issues
  • Abandonment of activities previously actively sought out or engaged in
  • Use of the drug in circumstances where using is problematic or dangerous
  • Continued use despite the recognition of problematic results
  • Development of a tolerance to the drug
  • Occurrence of withdrawal symptoms

According to the DSM-5, if even two criteria appear to be present, the individual is considered to have at least a mild case of Opioid Abuse Disorder. Of course, this diagnosis would need to be made by a qualified medical professional.

Some of these examples are behavioral and others are physical/chemical effects on the body. Some are signs of abuse which may even be clear and apparent to those who interact with the person experiencing them. If you see a problem occurring with someone you know you may want to seek guidance from an intervention specialist about next steps.

Am I Addicted?

If you believe you exhibit some of the criteria above, it is a good indication you may be addicted to fentanyl. But it’s important to understand that signs of these criteria can go unnoticed, even by the person experiencing them.

For instance, withdrawal symptoms can appear in many ways, and on a wide-ranging scale of severity. All these symptoms can be associated with fentanyl addiction: 

  • Difficulty sleeping and restlessness
  • Body fatigue
  • Overall physical weakness
  • Yawning
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Temperature swings (sweating/chills)
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Joint pain
  • Runny nose or watery eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unsteady/fast breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Withdrawal symptoms occur when the body becomes used to the presence of a substance in the system. Over time the body can become reliant on the substance for normal function, so when it is not present in sufficient quantities you may experience any of these symptoms.

Dangers of Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse

Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous drug leading to many overdoses as seen in the statistical information above, largely due to its potency. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100 times stronger than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. The difference between a dose resulting in the intended effects and an overdose is very small, especially when it has been purchased on the street where the true potency is always unreliable. 

Fentanyl addiction and abuse also leads to both social and professional problems. Failure to meet personal and professional responsibilities is very common. 

Even the act of obtaining fentanyl can be dangerous and cause problems. Supporting an addiction can come at a great financial expense. A growing tolerance leads to a need to acquire fentanyl illegally which can be very dangerous.

Before ever facing these dangers or before problems escalate, you can make a change. Reach out anytime for help getting started.