The opioid epidemic has a new, deadly twist: the inclusion of Fentanyl by drug labs has caused a rash of overdose deaths, and it’s only getting worse. In fact, the number of people addicted to Fentanyl has reached epidemic proportions. Recently, the drug has been in the news for having caused a large number of deaths in only a few days’ time.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiate drugs on the market, with a potency fifty times higher than heroin, one hundred times more potent than morphine. It is most often used for surgery recovery and for breakthrough pain i.e. in the case of someone already taking an opiate who experiences a sudden surge of pain that breaks through the opiate barrier.
Fentanyl comes in several forms, with different brand names:
- Sublingual i.e. under the tongue forms including lozenges (Actiq), quick dissolving tablets (Abstral), and sublingual spray (Subsys) are all administered to opioid-tolerant patients with breakthrough cancer pain.
- Nasal spray (Lazanda) predominantly used to treat pain in cancer patients.
- Patch (Duragesic) for moderate to severe pain; can last for up to 3 days.
- Injection (Sublimaze) administered in hospitals, sometimes alongside anesthetics, usually before and after surgeries.
For the individual abusing the drug outside a hospital, the latter is especially dangerous because there is a tiny margin between a therapeutic dose and a deadly dose.
Effects of Being Addicted to Fentanyl
Fentanyl works by blocking pain receptors in the brain and increasing production of the happiness-inducing chemical dopamine. Street names for fentanyl include Apache, China Girl and China White (previously names for heroin), dance fever, TNT, and crush.
As with any opiate, users experience euphoria, drowsiness, lethargy, and mellowness. Fentanyl side effects/signs and symptoms of use include dizziness and lightheadedness, dry mouth, retention of urine, suppression of breathing, severe constipation, itching or hives, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, headache, difficulty seeing, depression, hallucinations, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, sweating, shaking, and swollen extremities.
Fentanyl has a very high risk for addiction and abuse regardless of its prescription form. It impacts the central nervous system, causing excessive amounts of dopamine to flood the brain, chemically altering it over time. These neurochemical changes lead quickly to physical dependence, especially because tolerance develops quickly, requiring higher and higher dosages. A dose that is adequate for the intended effect will probably not create that same effect even a few days later.
Symptoms of fentanyl abuse can include:
- Constant headaches
- Respiratory complications
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Irregular heartbeat
These can escalate to:
- Respiratory depression
Fentanyl’s already elevated the risk of overdose is multiplied when someone without a tolerance to opioids abuses it. Fentanyl can depress the respiratory system to the point of failure, leading to fatal overdose.
Because Fentanyl takes over normal brain processes that provide stability and well-being, discontinuing the drug requires the brain to correct the imbalance, resulting in a variety of physical and psychological symptoms.
Withdrawal starts within 8 hours of last use and manifests similarly to flu chills, muscle aches, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, and tiredness. Acute symptoms peak within a day or two, adding the symptoms of heavy sweating, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability, anxiety, fast breathing, and stomach cramps. Insomnia usually persists throughout the first week, as well as fever. By the second week, Withdrawal is less severe. Fever, restlessness, and loss of appetite will be present but become more manageable heading into weeks three and four. Feelings of depression and irritability are common during this time.
Mr. Per Wickstrom, CEO of A Forever Recovery is a recovered addict and is on a mission to make effective rehabilitation a reality for every individual in need of this type of treatment. In the case of potentially fatal addiction to Fentanyl, it’s essential not to delay in taking the steps to recovery.