Fentanyl: The Deadly F Word

MastHead Outline
September 12, 2017

When talking about the opioid crisis, you may have heard the “f” word a few times. Fentanyl has been a main contributor to overdoses and deaths in the United States. What makes it different, though, is the number of lives it has taken over the past few years.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was developed to help patients with manage severe pain. This drug is not found naturally and was created in a lab to make the desired side effects more effective. Fentanyl can be taken through an injection, a patch or like a hard piece of candy. Common brands of fentanyl include Actiq®, Fentora® and Duragesic®. While this sounds like a great solution for those suffering from severe pain, it can have deadly consequences.

Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous

There is a time and place where this drug has its benefits, but like other opioids, it can be highly addictive. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine as an analgesic.” In comparison, oral hydrocodone is roughly 1.5 times more potent than oral morphine. If you can get faster and better relief, this may seem like the most effective way to treat pain. However, the more you take it, the more your brain will get addicted to it. Also, you may have to take it in larger doses to overcome the tolerance you have built.

Perhaps the biggest reason fentanyl has become such a danger is because it comes in powder form. The powder is highly concentrated, and even the smallest amounts can be fatal. When “snorted” through the nose, the drug is not metabolized in the same way and hits the bloodstream faster and more intensely. For some, coming in contact with fentanyl may be unintentional. According to CNN, “A police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital after he brushed fentanyl residue off his uniform, allowing the drug to enter his system through his hands.” Instances like this make you realize that fentanyl is a dangerous and prevalent drug in our society.

Frequently Asked Questions About Fentanyl

What Is the Risk of a Fentanyl Overdose?

Because fentanyl is nearly 100 times more potent than morphine, even a small amount taken for non-medical reasons can potentially lead to an overdose. In addition, many people addicted to fentanyl mix it with other drugs like alcohol, marijuana or other opioids. This combining increases the risk of respiratory depression, which means a person can stop breathing and ultimately die.

What Are the Signs of a Fentanyl Addiction?

Like any opioid, fentanyl produces a number of distinct symptoms that could indicate dependence, addiction or drug abuse, including:

  • Frequent nodding off or severe drowsiness
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Slowed breathing
  • Severe mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Chronic constipation

Addiction can also cause changes in a person’s behavior, making them seem more secretive or isolated from friends and family members. They may neglect their work or home responsibilities, struggle with their finances and even forgo basic personal hygiene. All of this behavior is generally caused by an overwhelming preoccupation with the drug.

What Is the Withdrawal Process Like When Someone Is Coming off Fentanyl?

While withdrawing from almost any opioid can create uncomfortable side effects, getting off fentanyl can be particularly intense because of the drug’s high potency. Many individuals who abuse fentanyl have already developed a tolerance to weaker opioids, so they use fentanyl to feel its coveted effects.

About 24 hours after the last dose of fentanyl wears off, people begin to feel a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Chronic yawning
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety

Most symptoms tend to fade after about a week. However, some psychological symptoms and insomnia can linger in certain individuals.

What Type of Treatment Works Best for Fentanyl Addiction?

An addiction to fentanyl tends to be a more serious and dangerous condition, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in conjunction with individualized addiction counseling tends to be the most effective treatment option. MAT uses specialized medication to replace the addictive substance so that individuals can be weaned off fentanyl. Medications like buprenorphine and Suboxone® replace the opioid a person is addicted to, helping them manage withdrawal symptoms without producing the same high. Once the fentanyl is out of their system, they can be weaned off the medications.

The Numbers Say It All

There are so many stories of overdoses and deaths that it seems like it happens multiple times a day. Unfortunately, this is the reality. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, stated, “We have a 9/11-scale loss every three weeks.” in relation to the number of opioid overdose fatalities. While the events are devastating in their own way, an average of 1,231 people died from a drug overdose every week in 2016.

What Can Be Done?

Being informed and informing others of this issue is the first step. Reach out to your local and state governments to voice your concerns. Stand up against the manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and physicians who contribute to the overprescribing of this drug. The more we talk about this, the more we can come together to help those in need.

If you or someone you know struggles with an addiction to fentanyl, remember that there is hope. AppleGate Recovery is here offering 24/7 assistance, and we’re ready to answer your questions about opioid addiction so that you can get started on the road to recovery. Our program includes medication-assisted treatment and counseling so that you can break the physical, mental and emotional bonds caused by addiction. Don’t wait — contact AppleGate Recovery today.

Originally Published: September 12, 2017

Updated: May 20, 2020