One quick Google search for fentanyl, and it is immediately apparent that this powerful drug is making some serious headlines, and not in a positive way. Overdoses of the synthetic opioid have been occurring across the country at an alarming rate, and fatalities are on the rise, even here in Luzerne County. According to the DEA, fentanyl was the second most identified opiate in drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015. Several thousand deaths occurred nationwide in the past three years, prompting the DEA to issue an alert warning people of the dangers of the potent opiate in the spring of 2015.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is one hundred times stronger than heroin and is so lethal that in its pure form, an amount equivalent to a grain of sand can kill you. Some people who ingest fentanyl do it unwittingly, as it is often used to cut heroin, and is also sold as pills to people looking to purchase oxycodone, with buyers and dealers alike unaware. With a steady flow of product coming in various forms from Mexico and China, it is more widely available than ever before. So what exactly is fentanyl, why is it so readily available at this time, and how can you recognize and help someone dealing with an opioid addiction?
Fentanyl, often prescribed as Actiq, Duragesic, or Sublimaze, is a synthetic opioid analgesic, similar to morphine, but up to one hundred times stronger. Like heroin and other opioids, it works on the receptors in the brain that control pain and emotions, and it produces intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Its intended use is as a painkiller for those patients who are dealing with severe acute pain, such as after surgery, and is administered by a medical professional. It is also prescribed as an alternative opioid for managing chronic severe pain in individuals who have successfully used other opioids before.
Fentanyl is administered most often as an injection, but it can also be prescribed as a transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. Illegally it can be sold as a powder, either on its own, as an additive to heroin, or pressed into tablet form. In a tablet form, it is made to look like a counterfeit version of popular painkiller brands, such as OxyContin. Its effects come on stronger and more quickly than other opioids, but last for a much shorter amount of time, in some instances only minutes. Death from fentanyl happens when too much is ingested, breathing slows, and respiratory arrest occurs.
Where Is Fentanyl Being Produced?
According to a DEA report in July of this year, laboratories in China are mass producing fentanyl and the necessary chemicals to make fentanyl. Traffickers (many with labs in Mexico) are able to purchase either the finished product or components of the product for a relatively low price. They can then produce a large quantity of laced heroin or pills, and in turn, make millions of dollars in profit. Fentanyl is relatively easy to make, and because this business is so lucrative, many dealers are choosing it as their main product. For example, DEA Spokesman Russ Bear told Vice News that, “one kilo of fentanyl can produce between 16 and 24 kilos of the drug product.”
The number of illicit laboratories that produce fentanyl in the United States has also seen a sharp increase in recent years. Use of this drug has become so widespread in the past two years alone that a nationwide alert was issued to law enforcement informing them of the dangers of fentanyl, as well as how to respond to overdose cases where fentanyl use may be suspected. Not only is fentanyl potentially fatal to users, but also for law enforcement or first responders, as a lethal amount can be transmitted via skin contact, or even accidentally inhaled.
Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse
Since the number of overdoses has increased so dramatically over just the last few years, it’s important to recognize signs of abuse. According to the CDC, between 2013 and 2014, the number of deaths from fentanyl and synthetic derivatives of fentanyl has increased by almost 80%. There are several signs of drug abuse, such as a person suddenly becoming much more lethargic or drowsy, withdrawing from close family and friends, no longer participating in activities, and lying, or otherwise being deceptive. They may also seem confused or disoriented and may show sudden psychosocial symptoms such as extreme mood swings, anxiety, or sudden euphoria.
It is important that anyone using opioids or anyone who is suspected of using opioids receive immediate medical attention and proper treatment. Some side effects of fentanyl use are nausea, vomiting, decreased breathing rate, hallucinations, sweating, and itchy skin. Long-term effects of abuse can range from poor performance in school or at work, to serious health problems including renal damage, and death. Symptoms of an overdose include (but are not limited to), difficulty breathing and/or swallowing, severe confusion, faint pulse, muscle spasms, seizure, and loss of consciousness. Opioid withdrawal can be painful and can trigger a number of physical effects, including flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, muscle aches, anxiety, body chills, and gastrointestinal problems.
In consideration of how serious an opioid addiction is, it is vital to enlist the help of a qualified treatment facility. Because of the severe nature of withdrawal symptoms, the chances are high that an addict may start using again, and detoxing under professional supervision greatly decreases this. A specialized treatment facility helps to provide the necessary tools to overcome addiction. It also creates a stable and steady environment, which is essential on the path to recovery.
It is worth nothing that while choosing to use a drug is most often times a choice, addiction itself is a serious disease, and like other illnesses must be treated. There are many sources of information online for those wishing to learn more about fentanyl, its effects, and treatment options. If you, or someone you know, has become addicted to fentanyl, another synthetic opioid, or any substance, please seek assistance. If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, help is available. For more than 40 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been effectively treating alcoholism and chemical dependency. We understand how difficult it can be to initially ask for help, but we also know that getting help is worth it. If you are ready to make a change, contact our Admissions Specialists today, and begin your road to recovery. They are available 24 hours a day and we accept several health insurance plans. Click Here for a list of insurance providers accepted.