Within the last couple of decades, the powerful opioid drug fentanyl has captured headlines due to its growing popularity as both a powerful tool prescribed by doctors for the treatment of severe pain and as a widely available and dangerous street drug. In order to understand what makes fentanyl use and addiction so dangerous, it’s important to understand what the drug is and how it affects the people who use it.
An average of 5 Oregonians die every week from opioid overdose. While heroin contributes to a significant number of overdose deaths, illegal fentanyl-related deaths are beginning to increase sharply.
What Is the Drug Fentanyl?
Unlike many other opioid drugs, fentanyl is a completely manmade opioid compound that was first created in 1960 by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen of Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Since the beginning, it was intended and marketed for the treatment of moderate to severe levels of pain. It’s one of only a few painkillers that are approved for the long-term treatment of pain and is primarily prescribed to people who suffer from chronic pain and also have a high tolerance to other opioids.
Fentanyl is an incredibly potent drug and is a stronger opioid than both morphine and heroin. In fact, the drug has been determined to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Because of how powerful it is, over time fentanyl has shifted from an effective way to treat patients suffering from high levels of chronic pain to a widely available and commonly misused street drug.
As fentanyl’s popularity as a street drug continues to gain traction, it’s still prescribed and used as an effective medical tool under the brand names Actiq, Sublimaze, and Duragesic. When used in a legitimate medical setting, the drug is commonly administered in pill form, injected, or as an adhesive patch.
As an illicit street drug, fentanyl is sold and consumed in any number of different forms. Most commonly, it’s sold in powder form and even pressed into pills made to look like fake or counterfeit versions of other prescription opioids. The drug can also be dissolved and dropped onto paper tabs, similar to LSD, or mixed with or sold as fake heroin.
The biggest risk for overdose with fentanyl occurs when the drug is being sold as counterfeit versions of other known opioid drugs. Fentanyl is very commonly mixed with heroin to increase the heroin’s strength. Too often, consumers of these street-level opiates believe they’re consuming one drug, but in reality, it’s the much more potent, and cheaper, fentanyl. This situation commonly leads to overdose and death.
Some common street names for fentanyl (or fentanyl-laced heroin) include:
- China Girl
- China White
- Dance Fever
- Great Bear
- Tango & Cash
Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction
It takes a very small amount of fentanyl to kill a person. Because of this, overdosing on the drug is common for people who regularly use it. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction can mean the difference between life and death for you or a loved one.
The signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction are similar to those of other opioids because fentanyl is an opioid. These include the compulsive use of fentanyl and other opioids, intense cravings for the drug, showing impaired judgment regarding the drug, or the continued use of fentanyl despite obvious negative consequences and harm.
When someone is under the influence of fentanyl, they’re likely to show signs that are easy to spot. Some of these signs may include:
- Drowsiness, trouble staying awake, and “nodding off”
- Disorientation and confusion
- Constipation and other digestive issues
- Nausea and vomiting
- Noticeable flushing of the skin, intense sweating, and hot flashes
- Slowed or labored breathing
- Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
One important thing to note about fentanyl addiction is that the addicted person may have suffered from addiction to another opioid first, prescription or otherwise. People who take opioids will eventually build a tolerance to the drug over time, meaning they will have to use more of the drug in order to feel the desired effects.
Some behavioral signs of fentanyl addiction may include:
- Increased tolerance to the drug beginning to form
- Using the drug to avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal
- Constantly thinking about fentanyl
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit using the drug
- Increased isolation and the avoidance of social events in order to use the drug
Because fentanyl is inherently more powerful than other opioids, people who suffer from opioid addiction may seek out fentanyl as a way to “beat” their opioid tolerance and achieve the high they’re seeking. This situation is both common and all too often leads to opioid overdose and death.
It’s very important to be able to identify the signs of fentanyl addiction because it’s very easy to take a lethal dose of the drug. It’s crucial that treatment options be considered immediately to avoid the potentially life-threatening consequences of fentanyl use.
After opioids have been used for a long period of time, the body adjusts to the constant presence of the drug. This is known as physical dependence. When the person stops using the drug suddenly, there are certain negative physical and psychological symptoms that are known as withdrawal.
The length of time 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 negatively affect some of the functions of the central nervous system such as breathing rate, body temperature, and heart rate. Fentanyl works by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain, causing an increase in the chemicals responsible for pleasure. After an extended period of fentanyl use, the brain starts to adjust to this new source of pleasure chemicals and stops producing them on its own. When fentanyl is removed from the equation, the body and brain are left to readjust, leading to all of the negative symptoms of withdrawal.
The duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person, but there are some issues that are experienced by everyone. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. While opioid withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, they are not generally seen as life-threatening. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Agitation, irritability, and restlessness
- Goosebumps and tremors
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Muscle spasms and impaired breathing
- Depression, anxiety, and difficulty experiencing positive feelings or pleasure
- Intense cravings for the drug
At Serenity Lane, We Treat Fentanyl Addiction With Compassion
Serenity Lane is proud to be one of the top-quality addiction treatment programs in the northwestern United States. We currently provide a cutting-edge, medically supported withdrawal program, also known as detox, at our inpatient care facility in Coburg, Oregon.
We’re proud to offer a full range of treatment services for people suffering from fentanyl addiction. Detox is the first step in your journey toward living a drug-free life.
Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized protocol that’s designed to be the most effective way to achieve long-term recovery from dependence on fentanyl. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues.
It’s important to remember that even if its symptoms aren’t life-threatening, the withdrawal process is known to be painful, scary, and it can make it harder to want to stop using opioids (including fentanyl).
In order to be sure safety is the top priority of medical detox, we embrace the benefits of having qualified, compassionate professionals who can handle the withdrawal process with ease. The discomfort and pain associated with opioid withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get a medical intervention that combines both their emotional and medical needs. That’s why a medical detox program is so important.
While cravings may still exist, the end result of a successful medical detox is that the person is no longer at high risk for complications related to their substance use.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a different approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Some of the MAT drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), known as FDA-approved medications, are naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone. These work best in combination with clinical therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders.
Medication used in MAT works by normalizing brain chemistry, relieving physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions without the negative withdrawal effects of fentanyl and other opioids.
Opioid receptor binding — which is when something finds a way to attach itself to a special space in the brain that is meant to receive the signals that opioid medications send — causes the signs and symptoms of overdose. It can also cause the euphoric effects or “high” associated with opioid use. MAT works by acting on the same targets in the brain as fentanyl and other opioids.
For example, methadone and buprenorphine suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings, whereas naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids at their receptor sites in the brain and is used only in patients who have already been through detox.
At Serenity Lane, our MAT program incorporates evidence-based, solution-focused methods for treating fentanyl addiction.
You’re not alone in your battle with fentanyl use. Serenity Lane is here to help by providing compassionate addiction treatment.
Serenity Lane offers unique, effective, and innovative solutions for your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family members struggling with opioid dependency, and any other addiction. Our residential treatment center in Coburg, Oregon, can help you or a loved one today. We’re the oldest nonprofit treatment program in the state of Oregon.
Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one needs. Call to speak to a recovery specialist now: 800-543-9905
What is fentanyl used for?
Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid drug that’s used medically to treat people who suffer from moderate to severe chronic pain. It’s also commonly misused by people for its powerful opioid high.
How strong is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid drug that is believed to be 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. A very small amount of the drug is enough to kill a human being.