Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse

In 2021, fentanyl overdose deaths became the leading cause of death in adults between the ages of 18 and 45. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of fentanyl overdose fatalities was an astounding 79,000.

Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction Risks and Effects

Data by DrugAbuse.gov show how high the mortality data leaped since 2010. The data stated that about 15-25% of the death certificates issued were not indicative of the specific drug involved in the overdose deaths. In these cases, either drug tests were not done, or there was a failure in recording the exact cause of death.

Also, in the same data presented, it was shown that synthetic opioids were likewise linked to overdose deaths involving other substances. To be very specific, in 2016, more than 42,000 overdose deaths were directly linked to the use of opioids. Out of this number, almost 46% involved the use of synthetic opioids. In the recorded 17,087 overdose deaths linked to prescribed opioids, almost 24% were directly linked to the use of synthetic opioids. Of the 15,469 overdose deaths involving heroin, a huge 37.4% were attributed to the use of synthetic opioids. Of 10,375 deaths from overdose of cocaine, another 40% were directly linked to synthetic opioids.  Regarding the types of opioids linked to opioid overdose deaths, it was reported that among the more than 42,000 reported opioid overdose deaths, 19,413 were linked to the use of synthetic opioids, 17,087 were related to prescription opioids, and 15,469 were traced back to use and abuse of heroin.

All these data and statistics only point out one fact — opioids, the synthetic or the prescription form, once abused, can lead to various dangerous and risky circumstances, including death.

Understanding Fentanyl

When one hears the word Fentanyl, the first three questions usually asked are “is fentanyl an opiate?” “is fentanyl addictive?” and “how addictive is fentanyl?”

Fentanyl is a synthetic pharmaceutical drug functioning as an opioid pain reliever (OPR) and is regarded as 50 to 100 times more potent and stronger than morphine. It relieves severe pain, such as intense pain even if under narcotic treatment, after surgery pain, pain accompanying cancer treatment, or any type of breakthrough pain. There are many forms of the drug made to meet the varying needs of patients.

Here are a few forms and brand names for fentanyl:

  • Actiq: This type of fentanyl is in a lozenge form, packaged on a plastic stick, and is taken by letting it melt under the tongue or like a lollipop. This is specifically prescribed for patients who are already on some type of pain-relieving medication.
  • Duragesic: This is a type of fentanyl made into a patch and was made available for public use in the early 1990s. This type of fentanyl is prescribed for patients experiencing moderate to severe pain. Its effects can last as long as 3 days.
  • Sublimaze: This type of fentanyl, along with anesthetics, is commonly administered in hospitals. It comes in an injectable form and is used to deal with before and after surgery pains.
  • Subsys: This specific type of fentanyl is used by spraying under the tongue to relieve the patient immediately of the pain. The main purpose of this drug is to help patients deal with cancer pain.
  • Abstral: This type of Fentanyl is used by patients experiencing breakthrough cancer pain who are also opioid tolerant. This works by quickly dissolving the tablet form and placing the same under the patient’s tongue to experience immediate relief.
  • Lazanda: This Fentanyl type is a nasal spray administered the same way you use a nasal decongestant spray. This drug is also used mainly to deal with cancer pains.

Fentanyl works by obstructing the movement and progression of the brain’s pain receptors and by hastening the production of dopamine, the brain’s happy chemical. Fentanyl is also known by its various street names —- crush, TNT, dance fever, China white, China girl, and apache.

Aside from this drug’s pain-relieving capacity, it also gives off a relaxed sense of euphoria, making it a great choice for individuals who are eager to find an intense and strong recreational high. This is one of the reasons why there are people who get addicted to fentanyl and consequently suffer from fentanyl drug abuse.

The downside is that whether you misuse the drug because you are self-medicating or you purposely abuse it to get high, the danger and risk are equally the same. The prospective negative effects include the development of addiction, long-term physical, mental, and psychological damage, and, at worst, death due to fentanyl overdose.

What’s even more complicated is that way too many fentanyl synthetic derivatives exist in the market. Such fact magnifies the risk and dangers of abuse and overdose even more. An example of this deadly kind of synthetic fentanyl is Carfentanil, a drug that is said to be 10,000 more potent and stronger compared to morphine. Medically, the only use of the said drug is for veterinary anesthetic administrable only to large animals like elephants. Then again, despite this fact and the known dangers of synthetic fentanyl, numerous individuals still use the drug and mix it with heroin. This mixture is easily fatal, and should an individual survive its fatal blow, he is most likely to brawl with opioid addiction.

Anybody who uses and abuses fentanyl or any of its synthetic derivatives is in clear and imminent danger. That person should immediately seek effective medical or professional help. Should he be deprived of immediate and continued medical care, he will most likely suffer the devastation brought about by the said synthetic drug.

Fentanyl Side Effects

There are several factors that can influence an individual’s risk of becoming addicted to and abusing fentanyl and its synthetic derivatives. Some of these risk factors are as follows:

Genetic risk factors: There might be some inherited traits that can increase the risk of an individual developing an addiction to opioids. Examples of these heritable traits are novelty-wanting and impulsivity. Another thing, if the individual’s sister, brother, or parents also struggled with addiction and substance use disorder, there is an equally high risk for the individual to have the same issue. Genetic studies allowed researchers and experts to point out and isolate the genes and clusters that might influence a person’s likelihood of developing opioid abuse disorder.

Environmental risk factors: If during an individual’s childhood he experienced traumatic adversity, a devastating experience that led to an overwhelming amount of stress, has experienced associating and mingling with peers who abuse the drug or has lived below the poverty line, he is said to have increased his risks for fentanyl addiction.

Other Notable Risk Factors:

  • Easy access to fentanyl or its synthetic derivative
  • One’s family history of addiction
  • Having been prescribed fentanyl to treat an injury or a disease
  • Prior opioid abuse and addiction
  • Stressful experiences and circumstances
  • Traumatic experiences

Just like any other potent opioid pain reliever, Fentanyl also carries a huge risk for abuse and addiction, regardless of how it was prescribed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, because of fentanyl’s massive strength and the possibility of addiction, a fentanyl epidemic could most likely occur. Individuals who ingest fentanyl at a higher dosage will experience heightened euphoria and relaxation, similar to a heroin high.

Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose:

These are a few apparent symptoms of fentanyl abuse and might escalate into symptoms of fentanyl overdose:

  • Blurry vision
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Itching
  • Queasiness
  • Seizures
  • Slowed down breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Wooziness

For individuals who haven’t developed a tolerance to opioids, fentanyl abuse is known to be fatal, which is the primary way how fentanyl kills you. The reason behind this is that mere taking of the substance poses an elevated overdose risk. Without such tolerance, the effects are even magnified and multiplied.

Also, according to various studies, fentanyl abuse can lead to a depressed respiratory system, a condition that can easily progress to respiratory failure and fatal overdose. Mixing heroin and other stimulants like cocaine with Fentanyl can also amplify these drugs’ damaging and lethal side effects. The drug is volatile and lethal regardless of whether fentanyl is prescribed or recreationally abused.

Side Effects and Outcomes:

If an individual fails to get the right and timely fentanyl addiction treatment and fentanyl overdose treatment, he may be at risk of a wide array of side effects and outcomes, including the following:

  • Substantial physical health problems
  • Various mental health disorders
  • Physical harm as a direct result of diminished motor skills
  • Physical harm to oneself and others as a result of poor decision-making skills
  • Failure in keeping meaningful relationships
  • Lessened performance at work or in school
  • Failure to find a job or keep one
  • Financial distress due to non-stop purchase of drugs
  • Detention and imprisonment
  • Withdrawal from reality, society, and relationships
  • Alienation
  • Homelessness
  • Crushingsense of hopelessness
  • Suicidal attempts and tendencies

Co-occurring Mental Conditions:

Individuals who are dependent on fentanyl or its synthetic derivatives are also at greater risk of having the following co-occurring mental conditions.

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Other substance use and abuse disorders
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Signs of a Fentanyl Addiction

These are a few known fentanyl addiction signs:

Co-occurring Mental Conditions:

  • Behavioral symptoms:
  • Doing dangerous, irresponsible, or treacherous behaviors
  • Long-term lethargy
  • Lying about or engaging in secrecy and/or deception when asked about his drug habits
  • Retreating from family, friends, and other relationships
  • The abrupt and total halt in participation in activities that were formerly important and satisfying

Physical symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Decelerated heart rate
  • Gastric distress
  • Lethargy
  • Narrow or strenuous breathing
  • Queasiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to focus and/or concentrate
  • Muddled perception and/or being in a state of disorientation
  • Weakened judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Apprehension
  • Dysphoria
  • Euphoria
  • Mistrust
  • Mood swings

Fentanyl Withdrawal Treatment:

If an individual decides to stop using Fentanyl, he may experience these fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and may need immediate fentanyl detox or fentanyl withdrawal treatment:

  • Abdominal cramping and pains
  • Dysphoria
  • Experiencing different flu-like symptoms
  • Extreme perspiration
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle and bone pains
  • Nausea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Psychomotor tension
  • Strong and seemingly uncontrollable cravings for fentanyl or its synthetic derivative
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Fentanyl Overdose Treatment:

These are a few effects of a Fentanyl overdose that would require immediate medical attention and subsequent fentanyl overdose treatment:

  • Confusion and mental disorientation
  • Decelerated heart rate
  • Delusions
  • Dilated or pinpointed pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of synchronization and other motor functions
  • Muscle contractions
  • Seizure
  • Strenuous, narrow, or irregular breathing
  • Weak pulse

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Fentanyl Withdrawal

Like many of those who suffer from substance addiction and abuse, people who do the same for Fentanyl are likely to experience adverse withdrawal effects once they tone down their drug use. Experts have narrowed it all down to two main symptoms: addiction and physical dependence.

Now, you may think that these two symptoms are one and the same, but there is actually a thin line that divides the two. Addiction is deemed more of a brain-related disorder that pushes an individual to use it instinctively, notwithstanding the slew of consequences that come with it. If they cannot cut the habit and choose to get high off it more than anything, it becomes an addiction.

On the other hand, physical dependence is more about consistent use, which commonly borders into unnecessary high dosages. This is an offshoot of either addictive tendencies or for legitimate medical purposes. Either way, the individual cannot physically function without the drug, as it has already caused major changes in brain chemistry.

People who experience withdrawal symptoms from Fentanyl misuse and abuse and need fentanyl withdrawal treatment often experience symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety, sudden mood swings, sleeping troubles and disorders, difficulty in focusing on specific tasks, and memory problems, and more deep cravings for the substance.

The withdrawal symptoms will depend on the addiction habit and the frequency in which the drug was taken regularly. Those who have not gone too far in terms of going beyond the prescribed amount will likely experience milder effects, such as flu-like symptoms that may run for a few days.

Of course, it is an entirely different case for long-term abusers. These people will likely bear the brunt of both physical and psychological repercussions, which would rightfully require deeper and more stringent rehabilitation and detox processes.

Fentanyl Detox

If an individual has clearly gone towards the downward spiral of Fentanyl addiction, he or she must undergo treatment as soon as possible to avoid fatal consequences. As of 2016, 42,249 deaths related to opioid overdose have been recorded. 19,413 of those fatalities were caused by an overdose on synthetic opioids, while 17,087 were caused by prescription opioids.

Given these numbers, it should be no question that people who have manifested symptoms of fentanyl overdose should be given immediate treatment. The detoxification process can be a bit rigid, as it involves three main stages, all dependent on the severity of the addiction and dependency.

The first stage of detoxification will be seen in the first two to three days after stopping the drug, wherein the user will begin to show mild withdrawal symptoms. He or she will experience physical manifestations such as insomnia, muscle aches, and agitation, just to name a few.

The second stage, which is the peak stage, is said to be the most intense period of them all. As the struggling individual continues to show signs of withdrawal such as nausea, bone pain, and bouts of diarrhea, he or she will also feel psychological effects such as mood swings and depression for the next three to five days. After the fifth day, however, the patient will begin to feel a lot more normal as the brain begins to relearn the release of neurotransmitters to opioid receptors of its own volition.

The third and final stage of detoxification occurs after two weeks at most when all the withdrawal symptoms are already at their all-time low. However, the feelings of intense cravings may still continue to manifest for a few more days. The third stage of detoxification is also the most crucial period since it is when the psychological repercussions may cause the patient to relapse. That said, it is highly important to take good care of the patient and attend to their medical needs.

Helping a Person Addicted to Fentanyl

To begin the process of helping and treating an individual who is confirmed to be addicted to Fentanyl, one must determine the necessary steps. Many of these steps are commonly done on an inpatient or outpatient basis and go way beyond the treatment process.

First and foremost, patients and their loved ones must look past the idea of hospital care alone. A study done in 2017 found that those who went through an addiction treatment program saw significantly lower death rates compared to those who opted for strictly hospital care.

Treatment facilities offer more than just medical treatment; they also include safer medical detox processes, individual and group therapy, thorough evaluation, 12-step programs, and aftercare planning.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Specifics

Here is how it ideally works to further delve into the specifics that involve treating those suffering or just getting through Fentanyl addiction. Firstly, and probably most importantly, the said patient must be subjected to a comprehensive form of treatment.

This means that he or she will have to deeply address all the reasons for what led to the abuse in the first place. This is likely the most challenging aspect of the treatment and recovery process, especially since an addict will be in denial about their habit during the onset.

As previously mentioned, the importance of being involved in 12-Step Programs cannot be stressed enough. Many people are apprehensive about getting into such treatment forms, mainly because of the fear and worry of being judged.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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