More About Fentanyl: Addiction, Effects, and Treatment
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Drug overdose rates keep rising each year and fentanyl use is to blame. Over the past few years, fentanyl has made its way into the ring of recreational use. Some use the drug on its own but more often it’s found mixed into batches of heroin, often without the user knowing.
67,367 people in America died from a drug-related overdose in 2018, nearly double the number in 2010. 31,335 of these deaths due to overdose were caused by a synthetic opioid other than methadone. Fentanyl was mainly to blame for the majority of those deaths.
What is fentanyl and how has it affected the population in the United States? How does it affect users and how can people struggling with addiction find help?
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic drug in the prescription opioid class. It’s like morphine but between 50 to 100 times more powerful. This makes it the strongest prescription painkiller available. Clinicians use the drug to treat severe or chronic pain or after surgical procedures.
Doctors also use fentanyl for patients who develop physical tolerances to other opioids. As tolerance for medications like hydrocodone or morphine rises, clinicians prescribe fentanyl instead.
Fentanyl is also the newest drug to blame for the growing opioid epidemic taking over the U.S. It has effects like heroin and prescription painkillers. Fentanyl is more potent, though, so it’s more popular for recreational use and abuse.
Drug manufacturers mix fentanyl with heroin to increase its strength. They also sell fentanyl itself as heroin. Users thinking they’re taking pure heroin to take too much and accidentally overdose. These practices triggered the rise of drug overdose deaths over the past few years.
How Do People Use Fentanyl?
Fentanyl can be used in various ways depending on the intention of use. Clinicians and doctors provide it for patients in a monitored setting. Recreational use is much different than professional medical use.
Under the supervision of a doctor, fentanyl is available in a few different forms:
- An intramuscular shot
- A patch placed on the skin
- Cough drop-like lozenges
- It’s available on an outpatient basis when necessary. Patients who need at-home fentanyl usually receive it in patch form for ease of use.
There are different methods for recreational fentanyl use. Some can find legitimate medications or actual prescriptions. But most fentanyl on the market is made in other countries then imported into the United States. This illicit imported fentanyl is available in different forms such as:
- Pressed pills (like other prescription opioids)
- Dropped onto blotter paper
- Nasal sprays
Effects of Fentanyl Use
Like other opioid-based drugs, fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are responsible for functions including perception of pain and emotional regulation. This causes the pleasurable effects of heroin, prescription painkillers, morphine, and fentanyl alike.
Recreational fentanyl use gives a strong but pleasurable high. It leaves users feeling relaxed, euphoric, and calm. “Nodding out” is one common effect that users enjoy. It refers to the blissful shift between states of alertness and semi-consciousness.
The first opioid high people experience is intense and elusive. Users find they cannot often replicate their first opioid experience. Still, they’ll go on a neverending chase trying to reach it again.
Other less-pleasurable side effects of fentanyl use include:
- Slowed breathing
All opioids cause breathing and heart rate to slow. This can lead to difficulties in breathing and possible respiratory arrest. Taking too much fentanyl intensifies most of these effects. If someone takes too much in a short time it can lead to serious complications.