Fentanyl is an opiate pain reliever that has gained publicity recently following the death of musical icon Prince. Prince’s death was due to an accidental overdose on fentanyl, and while little is known about the events leading up to this tragic event, millions of Americans are using the very same drug to manage chronic pain. With how strong an opioid it is, fentanyl abuse is risking the lives of millions.
While all opioids have the ability to effectively treat pain, fentanyl is especially potent. The drug was originally synthesized in 1960, working quickly to relieve pain—although the effects did not last long. Due to its potency, the drug is frequently administered in hospital settings. Fentanyl is more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, making misuse substantially more dangerous. The difference between a therapeutic dose and overdose is so minute that without medical supervision, misuse can quickly become deadly.
Millions of people in the United States manage severe pain with the assistance of opioid drugs. In some cases, they are prescribed to manage the pain that follows surgery, while in others, opioids may be used to treat chronic pain. While they are incredibly effective in treating pain, opioids come with a long list of dangers associated with use. Opioid abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States. As effective as the drug is, it is also incredibly addictive and dangerous when misused.
About Fentanyl Abuse
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States between 2005 and 2007. Due to the fact that it is largely available in hospital settings, nurses and anesthesiologists have a higher risk for abusing fentanyl than the general population. In most cases, fentanyl abuse is a result of misuse of prescriptions. With increased availability, it is easier for the drug to fall into the hands of the wrong person.
Signs of Fentanyl Abuse
Users may experience a wide range of side effects. These include:
- Dry mouth
- Suppression of breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Difficulty seeing
In some cases, fentanyl abuse can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or death. With long-term use, individuals may begin to experience more serious mental and physical side effects. These include:
- Weakened immune system
- Personality changes
What is Fentanyl & How is It Abused?
Fentanyl is available as a dissolvable piece of film, a pill, or an injectable. As an opiate, the drug works quickly to produce feelings of euphoria, drowsiness, and mellowness. In a short period of time, tolerances begin to develop, requiring users to take larger doses in order to produce the same effects. As an opioid, fentanyl abuse often leads to heroin addiction, which is typically cheaper and easier to obtain.
It is not uncommon for individuals to mix fentanyl with other dangerous drugs—such as heroin—to enhance the effects. In cases in which the drug is sold illegally, fentanyl is often cut with other street drugs, making users unaware of exactly what they are using. Mixing drugs dramatically increases a person’s risk for life-threatening side effects.
Treating Opioid Addiction
There are multiple methods to address opioid addiction. One of the most advantageous approaches to treatment is the use of medication-assistance. Opioid addition is incredibly dangerous and the withdrawal symptoms can be just as life-threatening. In most cases, it is important for withdrawal to take place under the supervision of a medical team. Side effects of withdrawal can be uncomfortable or painful, causing many to relapse. With the assistance of medical professionals, the risk of relapse is reduced and the withdrawal process can be made more comfortable.
Following detox, it is important to address the mental and psychological influences on addiction. For many, drugs are a means of escape. Whether they’re used as a means of coping with stress, past experiences, or as a method of relaxation, helping people develop healthy coping mechanisms is critical to the recovery process. Due to the nature of opioid addiction, residential treatment tends to be the most effective. With the length of the program, its intensity, and the fact that it removes people from enabling peers and environments, it often provides the strongest foundation in sobriety.