What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and prescription drug that is named as a schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Historically, it has been used to treat breakthrough pain, commonly used in pre-procedures as a pain management medication and as an anesthetic in combination with a benzodiazepine. It is 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical-grade heroin. It’s available under the brand names:
Fentanyl is often created in clandestine labs and used as a cutting agent for heroin. While heroin is derived from morphine, a natural substance removed from the seed of the opium poppy plant, fentanyl is synthetic and can be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. On the street, fentanyl is known as:
- China White
- Crazy One
Fentanyl is a very powerful synthetic opioid analgesic with a rapid onset and short duration of action. It is a full mu-opioid receptor agonist. Due to its strength and effectiveness, the drug can be extremely addictive.
Fentanyl & opiate dependence, drug addiction & substance abuse.
How does someone develop a dependence or addiction to fentanyl?
Because of its extreme potency, fentanyl can be highly addictive. Even a person who takes the opioid prescribed by their doctor in the recommended fashion can experience end up abusing fentanyl and feel dependence or addiction—usually, this becomes apparent to the user when they try to come off the drug and begin to feel symptoms of withdrawal or poor health. While a person can be dependent on a drug without being addicted to it, dependence, in many cases, will eventually lead to addiction. The best way to prevent opioid addiction is to abstain from taking the drugs at all.
Addiction is a form of substance use disorder (SUD). SUD is a health condition defined by the compulsion to use drugs despite the drug abuser’s awareness of dangerous and harmful consequences for their health. When a person becomes addicted to drugs, they will continue to take drugs despite the negative consequences it can have on their life, such as the demise of their relationships or career. When a person develops an addiction to opioids, they develop what is known as opioid use disorder.
Symptoms and health effects of fentanyl use & opioid use disorder
Short-term health effects of fentanyl use and substance abuse
Typically, a doctor will prescribe opioids to patients who need acute pain relief after surgery, or to those suffering from cancer pain. If you are physically tolerant to other opioids, you may be prescribed the drug to manage severe chronic pain. Prescription opioids can be taken as a lozenge, tablet, nasal spray, swab, given as an injectable, or absorbed through the skin in the form of a transdermal patch.
Fentanyl functions in the same manner as other opioids, binding with neurochemical transmitters in the central nervous system to block the transmission of pain signals which means it has the potential to drive substance abuse. It binds to the same brain receptors as endorphins, producing euphoric effects. With repeated exposure, the human body will quickly adapt to this increased endorphin production by increasing the number of endorphin receptors. However, when our endorphin levels drop, feelings of depression, pain, poor behavioral health, and physical cravings occur. These neurochemical changes to a person’s health are the central physiological cause of addiction—this is what makes fentanyl addictive.
Long-term health effects and risk of fentanyl addiction
The majority of fentanyl abusers suffering from opioid use disorder were prescribed the drug for pain relief.
If this dangerous drug is taken over an extended period, it’s not uncommon for someone to begin to misuse or abuse the drug as they develop a tolerance to its effects. As the user takes more of the drug in an attempt to experience the same feelings of euphoria and pleasure that they first had when they began using the drug. It is this behavior that often creates adverse effects on health and kickstarts addiction.
A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study revealed that opioid analgesics were responsible for half of all cases treated in US emergency rooms in 2012. An opioid user can need urgent medical care for several reasons related to side effects of substance abuse such as seizure, coma, or depressed breathing. Shockingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that an average of 136 people die from opioid use daily—this figure outline the severity of the current opioid crisis in the US.
Other potential health effects or health risks from fentanyl abuse
Fentanyl can have the following effects on the user:
- Extreme elation
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion or bewilderment
- Depression of the respiratory system or shallow breathing
- Bone pain
Signs of fentanyl addiction & opioid use disorder – short and long-term use
Signs of fentanyl overdose in the United States
If a user takes too much of the drug, an opioid overdose may occur with potentially life-threatening consequences. One of the most deadly side effects of overdosing on opioids is the slowing or stopping of breathing. This cuts oxygen supply to the brain and can result in the onset of coma, brain damage, or even death.
If an opioid addict or abuser is unable to acquire opioid drugs legally, through a prescription issued by a doctor, they will oftentimes turn to illegal methods of acquisition. Because of the potency of fentanyl, many drug dealers use it to cut common drugs such as heroin—it is cheaper for them to mix a tiny amount of it with another drug than to sell the other drug solely in its pure form. This has led to an increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent times.
Naloxone is one way of mitigating or reversing the health effects of opioid overdose. Naloxone works by binding to opioid receptors in much the same fashion as opioids themselves, thus blocking the opioid from taking effect. In the case of fentanyl, which is much stronger than most other opioid drugs, multiple doses of naloxone may be required to treat patients experiencing an opioid overdose. In some states, naloxone can be dispensed at pharmacies or drug stores without prescription.
If you see someone overdosing on fentanyl or other drugs, call 911 immediately and ask for emergency responders and urgent medical care. Drug overdoses can be fatal, knowing the signs of fentanyl overdose can save lives.
Prescription pain medications & fentanyl
Opioid drugs take effect by binding to the body’s mu-opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other systems. When continuous use comes into the equation, the brain develops a tolerance to the drug, thereby diminishing its effects as well as the brain’s ability to feel pleasure at all. When the brain begins to become desensitized to feelings of pleasure, this is when a person is likely to develop an addiction, as the opioid seemingly becomes the only way that the user can experience pleasure.
Fentanyl is an opioid drug used to treat patients with moderate to severe pain in a way that is similar to morphine but is much more powerful. It is a stronger substance than other opioids like heroin, or oxycodone.
Many drug dealers disguise fentanyl as other opioid drugs because it is more economical. Disguised or illicit fentanyl drugs are also known by street names such as:
- Green apples
- Shady eighties
- Fake oxy
An opioid is a substance that is usually prescribed by doctors for patients in need of pain relief or treatment. People also take opioids recreationally and illegally in order to achieve a state of euphoria or pleasure, or if they have an opioid drug addiction. For more opioid drug information, see our website.
It is a much more potent substance than codeine, oxycodone, morphine, and many other opioids. When a person takes fentanyl orally or by intravenous injection (IV), it has a stronger effect than most other opioids.
The only way that opioids should be acquired is by a prescription from a doctor. A physician will prescribe a person the substance if they feel it’s necessary, and recommend a dose that is suitable for you.
It is not uncommon for drug addicts to develop co-occurring opioid use disorders. For example, someone may find themselves addicted to synthetic marijuana and find fentanyl addictive simultaneously or have both drug and alcohol addiction.
Opioids can have extreme health risks if it is taken in high enough doses, particularly overdose. Signs of fentanyl overdose include the person experiencing:
- Difficult or depressed breathing
- Clammy skin
The opioid’s properties and its ability to evoke feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria are what make fentanyl addictive. If the drug is used for a prolonged period, tolerance is likely to ensue, which often drives users to take more of the substance to feel the same effects that they had originally experienced. People take the substance to control physical pain and emotions.
The road to recovery can be long for fentanyl addicts. Thankfully, there are many forms of opioid addiction disorder treatment providers/programs available in the US. These drug rehab centers and fentanyl addiction treatments can be very effective in some cases and can save lives. They include medication-assisted treatments using opioid addiction medicine such as methadone, experiential therapy, residential treatment programs, partial hospitalization program (PHP), inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient rehab programs, and cognitive behavioral therapy or individual therapy.
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) is an addiction therapy and treatment program that aims to bring the nervous system back to health and balance by decreasing receptor production in the brain while allowing the body to resume proper levels of endorphin production. ANR also allows the metabolizing and elimination of unnecessary exogenous opioids from the body which can mitigate withdrawal symptoms. The ANR treatment is conducted at various ANR treatment centers across the United States.