Fentanyl addiction is an affliction that has been on the rise over the past decade and has contributed to an alarming number of overdoses. Understanding what this substance is, why is it addictive, how people become addicted, and how to treat fentanyl addiction is critical to addressing the opioid crisis in America. Let’s start by taking a deeper look into what fentanyl really is.
What is Fentanyl?
A chemical substance that is often prescribed by physicians to treat severe pain, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times stronger than morphine. However, fentanyl can and is also illicitly made, sold, and used across the United States. A powerful and fast-acting opioid, too great of a dose or mixing fentanyl with other substances, could lead to severe side effects. Although fentanyl has been a game-changing medication in providing comfort to those in severe pain, such as cancer patients, its use has also lead to major consequences including addiction, overdose, and death.
Pharmaceutical grade fentanyl can be prescribed in a few different forms. Lozenges and patches are examples of common forms in which fentanyl is prescribed because they allow for a slow release. These slow-release methods allow for more control in the dosage and help prevent serious side effects.
Fentanyl Brand Names:
- Actiq: a fentanyl lozenge on a plastic stick like a lollipop.
- Duragesic: a fentanyl patch that can be used to treat moderate to severe pain for up to 3 days.
- Sublimaze: an injectable form of fentanyl often used with anesthesia in hospitals for surgeries.
- Subsys: a fast-acting sublingual fentanyl spray.
- Abstral: a quick-dissolving fentanyl tablet for fast-acting pain relief.
- Lazanda: a fentanyl nasal spray.
Individuals who are addicted to prescription fentanyl or another opioid drug (illicit or otherwise) may search for a cheaper and stronger alternative. Illicitly-made fentanyl is one of the strongest chemical substances on the black market. Unfortunately, there are a number of unknowns when using any illicit drug, but these unknowns are even more dangerous when it comes to a drug as strong as fentanyl. For one, there is no way to know exactly what is in the drug unless you made it yourself. Consequently, there is no way to know how strong it is and what a “safe” dose would be.
Effects of Fentanyl
The euphoric and pain-relieving effects of heroin are one of the main reasons why people use the substance. In addition to these effects, using fentanyl can lead to a number of unpleasant changes in the mind and body. Depending on the individual and the dosage, the effects felt may be slightly different. The effects that one could anticipate are similar to heroin or other opioids and include:
- Drowsiness and sedation
- Dependence and addiction
- Respiratory distress
- Loss of consciousness or coma
Danger of Fentanyl
A great controversy surrounding fentanyl is its associated high risk of overdose. Even prescription fentanyl comes with warnings because of how powerful the substance is. However, illicit fentanyl is particularly dangerous due to the unknowns about how the substance was made. A single dose of fentanyl can have devastating effects, but it is the continued, uncontrolled use that carries the most risk. Additionally, the possibility of an overdose increases significantly when heroin is used along with other substances, such as heroin and alcohol.
How Does a Fentanyl Overdose Happen?
An overdose on fentanyl happens when a dose is taken that is too great for the human body to handle. Opioids affect the receptors in the brain that are connected to breathing. When taken, the individual will likely become drowsy and their breathing will slow. Slowed breathing is normal when in a relaxed state, but in some cases, the breathing slows significantly or stops completely. This prevents oxygen from reaching the heart and being transported to the rest of the body. When untreated, oxygen deprivation of the brain can lead to a coma, brain damage, and death.
Signs of Overdose
In the event that someone is experiencing an overdose, they will likely be unable to help themselves. If another person is present and they notice any of the following symptoms, they need to act fast and get help immediately:
- Constricted pupils
- Weak muscles
- Extreme drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness
- Significantly slowed heartbeat
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- Slowed or no breathing
- Blue or purple-ish nail and lip coloration
Signs of Fentanyl Abuse
Being able to identify fentanyl addiction is critical in addressing the opioid crisis and preventing overdoses. Ideally, addiction would be identified early and treatment will be provided immediately. Unfortunately, many patients who are prescribed fentanyl do not know that it can be addictive. A common misconception is that opioid pain relievers, especially synthetic ones, are not addictive. In reality, the signs of addiction to all opioids are often the same. These include things like prescription shopping, taking larger doses than prescribed, taking greater and greater amounts to achieve the same effects, using illicit fentanyl, and having drug paraphernalia (lighter, spoon, foil, syringe, belt or band).
Treating Fentanyl Addiction
Most of us have heard the saying that “admitting you have a problem is the first step”. This is the first step, but getting help is the next step. Recovery is a process, but one that begins with detoxing the body from the presence of any drugs and continues indefinitely. Following a detox program, lower levels of care provide continued physical and emotional support to those in recovery. Recovery programs also help clients develop tools and coping mechanisms for fentanyl relapse prevention.
Even individuals who are not addicted, but are dependent on opioids, could benefit from the assistance and support of a fentanyl addiction treatment program.
The first step for individuals struggling with fentanyl addiction is to complete a fentanyl detox program. Detox involves processing any drugs in their system and allowing the mind and body to return to its normal way of functioning. The detox process will look different for everyone because how long fentanyl stays in your system can vary. For some, it may require medical assistance due to the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. There are 2 general approaches to detoxing from fentanyl: going “cold-turkey” or weaning off the drug over an extended period of time (typically a few months).
What to Expect During Fentanyl Detox
Getting Started: Admissions
During the admissions process, our team is working to determine the severity of a client’s addiction and dependence, as well as any unique factors that may influence their recovery process. With this information, they will ensure admission to the most beneficial treatment facility, help with travel arrangements, and develop a personalized treatment plan. Common questions that an admissions specialist may ask include:
- What are you struggling with?
- Are you using any other substances?
- How long have you been using?
- How much have you been using?
Benefits of An Inpatient Detox Program
Not everyone will experience the same fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, but typically they resemble that of the flu. Symptoms may include:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramps
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Dilated pupils
MAT for Fentanyl Addiction
Fentanyl is the most potent opioid on the market and withdrawal can include severe cravings. Due to these severe cravings and the other intense withdrawal symptoms, some addiction treatment professionals will offer a medication-assisted treatment program. This method of treatment allows clients to be weaned off of opioids via the use of medications that act on neurotransmitters in the same manner as fentanyl.
Subutex, or buprenorphine, is a medication used during opioid detox to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms and to suppress cravings. This is a short term medication and is only used under close observation.
Similar medications, methadone and Suboxone, can be prescribed to patients on an outpatient basis. They allow for a long-term detox process in which the goal is for the individual to be slowly weaned off of the medication. Many people advocate for these medications because they prevent opioid overdose-related deaths for individuals who have struggled with recurrent relapses. On the other hand, others are opposed to the use of these medications because they also carry a risk of addiction.
In order to ensure the success of individuals seeking recovery at Level Up, we provide the safest medication-assisted treatment to those who are good candidates and we ensure close medical observation throughout the length of treatment. We also offer an array of alternative therapies to assist those that are not good candidates or opt-out of MAT.
Fentanyl Fast Facts
- Fentanyl can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
- Fentanyl can be found in the form of prescription medications or illicit street drugs.
- Illicit fentanyl is sold in the form of powders, dropped on blotter paper-like small candies, in eye droppers, nasal sprays, or in pill forms that mimic prescription fentanyl.
- Fentanyl initiates the release of neurotransmitters that bind to receptors in the brain controlling pain and emotions.
- Between 2012 and 2015, the rate of synthetic opioid-related deaths (predominately fentanyl) increased by 264%.
Get Free From Fentanyl at Level Up
If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl addiction, or addiction to other opioids, get started at Level Up Lake Worth. Our dedicated and passions team takes a holistic approach to recovery, providing an array of treatment therapies. Your recovery is our goal.