Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that has quickly spiraled from a practical, prescription drug to a fiend of the street, and it has taken the lives of many young adults along for its ride. Because of its rising popularity on the street and among young people, fentanyl has recently been deemed a top emerging drug trend by the NIDH.
Where did fentanyl come from, exactly? Why are many of us just hearing of it now?
You’ve likely heard of fentanyl drugs before, under brand names such as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Originally, these prescription opioids were used to treat patients with severe or chronic pain, as the analgesic drug is in fact chemically similar to morphine. The true difference, however, is that fentanyl is much more potent than its relative opiates, and can be extremely lethal if taken in any way other than prescribed.
Sold today as “China Girl” or “China White” (names that previously were tied to a brand of heroin), this Schedule II prescription drug has contributed to a recent string of overdose deaths, and its toxicity is largely to blame. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, 50 times more potent than heroin, and its effects are intensified even more in combination with other drugs. Not only this, but fentanyl has a way of acting on the body much quicker than many other drugs. Its immediate effects are, perhaps, one reason it has become a favored painkiller of abuse among young adults.
When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl can be found most commonly in the form of a lozenge or a “take home” patch. In hospital settings, it is often administered via injection, as it is a water soluble drug. On the streets, fentanyl can be sold in a variety of forms—most commonly as a pill or powder than can be smoked or snorted. Some abusers will eat, chew, smoke the slow-release fentanyl patch, or even steep it as tea.
Like heroin, morphine, and other opiate drugs, fentanyl binds to our body’s opiate receptors—ones that populate in the parts of brain controlling pain and emotions. As the drug binds to these receptors, our dopamine levels rise and we become both euphoric and overly relaxed. When fentanyl is abused, however, it creates an intense high and can easily result in overdose. For many young adults abusing fentanyl, especially first-time users, the risk of overdose is high because they don’t realize that, with this drug, a little bit goes a long way. There have been horror stories of people overdosing on fentanyl (and going unconscious) before even pulling the needle out of their arm.
Fentanyl abuse has been an issue for a couple decades now, but only of recently have we seen its deadly effects in combination with other drugs. Fentanyl is now being used to cut heroin—a blend curated for disaster. According to a recent NPR release, the DEA declared that, between 2005 and 2007, more than 1,000 deaths were caused by fentanyl-heroin overdoses alone. The fentanyl that is cut with other drugs, according to sources, is easy to make and is now being produced illegally in clandestine laboratories.
Warning Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
The side effects of fentanyl, as aforementioned, come on rapidly upon administration of the drug. When mixed with street-sold drugs, its potency, effects, and potential dangers are even more amplified. If you believe your teen is abusing fentanyl, or any drugs that could potentially contain fentanyl, take action and seek professional help immediately. Opiate overdose can cause a person to stop breathing; with fentanyl, this effect happens quickly.
Symptoms of fentanyl abuse can include:
- Constant headaches
- Respiratory complications
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Irregular heartbeat
Regular fentanyl abuse can cause:
- Respiratory depression
- Tolerance and addiction
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
As with other powerful prescription painkillers, fentanyl is especially addictive. Because it is so fast-acting, and because its high is so intense, the drug makes users even more prone to dependence. Adolescent and young adult fentanyl users are especially susceptible to developing a fentanyl addiction. As they develop a tolerance, their bodies will begin to require a higher dose to get the same rush. What’s scary is, even a slightly higher dose of fentanyl can put a user in the ER, and cause irreparable physical damages due to overdose.
Because fentanyl overdoses are such high risk among users, professional addiction treatment for your teen should be sought out immediately. Fentanyl overdose, like other opioid overdoses, can be reversed medically through the drug naloxone (Narcan). Naloxone is an opiate antagonist that can block the effects of opiate drugs, but only if it is administered immediately.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are severe: pain over the entire body, extreme anxiety, and anorexia are just a few that can result after an addiction sets in. As a result, fentanyl addiction treatment requires detoxification to rid the body of its toxins. Recovery from a fentanyl addiction must also be under watchful care, in the case that any more adverse symptoms or cravings intensify. If your son is suffering from a fentanyl addiction, our team at Turning Point highly recommends a long-term, inpatient treatment program to adhere to all of his needs. Fentanyl addiction is debilitating, and your loved one should be given all of the opportunities he needs to live a sober lifestyle. Call us today at 877-581-1793 for more information.