What is Fentanyl and How Is It Used?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid with a dangerous reputation. It can be 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. This increased potency means a greater likelihood of causing life-threatening opioid side effects or a fatal overdose. These already significant risks are amplified even further when fentanyl and alcohol are combined. Even in small doses, the combination can be quite the lethal duo.
Forms of Fentanyl:
- Injectable solution
- Blotter paper
- Eye droppers
- Nasal sprays
Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance. This means that it has a high potential for abuse and can result in severe physical or psychological dependence. Other drugs in this classification include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. This classification might come as a surprise seeing as how fentanyl is far more powerful than heroin, which is classified as a Schedule I, the highest tier. The reason for this is that fentanyl does have prescribed uses whereas heroin does not and is purely illicit.
The Dangers of Fentanyl
Synthetic opioids are one of the leading causes of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Fentanyl leads those numbers and in 2017 resulted in nearly 30,000 overdose fatalities. Over half of all opioid-related deaths that year involved fentanyl.
Unlike with other types of opioid abuse that are driven by misuse of a prescription (typically by a non-prescribed individual), the majority of illicit fentanyl usage is supplied by illegal manufacturing of the substance by clandestine laboratories.
Although fentanyl operates as your typical opioid would, the higher potency means that the neurological reactions are much stronger, the effects on the body are more drastic, and the likelihood of addiction far greater. As little as a 2-milligram dose can be lethal (picture for scale). Fentanyl comes in a variety of forms and its versatility of consumption is a significant factor in why this dangerous substance is so widespread.
How Fentanyl Affects the Body
Fentanyl is fast-acting and works like your typical opioid. It is a mu-opioid receptor antagonist that controls pain and emotions. Once it has activated receptors, dopamine levels increase which blocks sensations of pain and sometimes results in feelings of euphoria. Fentanyl also acts as a depressant on central nervous system functions which can slow down breathing and digestion. One surprising difference between fentanyl and other opioids is that fentanyl does not seem to have the same cardiovascular effects that most other opioids do. The most common fentanyl side effects include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Slowed or difficulty breathing
Fentanyl and Alcohol: Making a Bad Situation Worse
Both fentanyl and alcohol are depressants. They both cause cognitive impairment and disruption to central nervous system functions but do so in different ways. The primary danger of using both substances together is where those side effects overlap: respiratory depression.
On its own, fentanyl can slow breathing to a dangerous rate and initiate a potentially-fatal chain of events. Slowed breathing means less oxygen intake, and this oxygen shortage leads to brain hypoxia which often results in a comatose state. From there, things can quickly get worse. The best-case scenario of the individual waking up from a coma could still result in permanent brain damage from the lack of oxygen. The worst? Death.
In addition to brain hypoxia, the rise of carbon dioxide levels (caused by the lack of oxygen’s presence) can trigger hyperglycemia. Both of these conditions eventually lead to a change in the brain’s temperature and slow metabolic brain activity.
Treating Polydrug Use and Abuse
Using alcohol with any sort of medication is generally a bad idea, and opioids even more so. Polysubstance abuse brings out the worst of each other and can often result in entirely new sets of less than desirable side effects. In circumstances of polysubstance abuse, treatment can be particularly difficult trying to extricate one symptom or trigger from another. Our experienced staff are well-versed in such types of addiction treatment and can help manage unpleasant side effects with our medical detox program. Contact us today to learn more and start your journey to recovery.