The Dangers of Fentanyl Addiction

In the last decade, another opioid drug has become a familiar source of struggle for millions of American’s. In the last few years, a synthetic opioid called Fentanyl has become a familiar headline in news reports from all corners of the country. Fentanyl is widely used in medical settings and a highly effective pain reliever. However, because of its effectiveness, it has developed popularity as a street drug. Fentanyl is widely abused and has rapidly become a leading cause opioid-related overdose death.

In the United States, Fentanyl is the primary driving force behind most opioid overdose deaths. In 2019, approximately 50,000 people lost their lives to opioid overdose. Of those, 73% involved synthetic opioids, primary Fentanyl. One does not need to look far to read about an overdose linked to Fentanyl. In the last few years, several popular celebrities including Prince, Lil Peep and Mac Miller, along with countless others have succummed to Fentanyl overdose.

A book is opened to a page with information on fentanyl and is a metaphor for the dangers of fentanyl addiction.

 Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic. An Analgesic is a medical used to relieve pain. Although Fentanyl works within the body in similar ways to morphine, it is up to one hundred times more powerful. This makes Fentanyl abuse and misuse extremely dangerous. Often, fentanyl addiction is quick to develop and must be treated similarly to “regular” opioid addiction.

What is Fentanyl?

Drugs are created in different ways. Some drugs are manufactured using naturally occurring ingredients like plants, seeds, and similar elements occurring in nature.  Others are manufactured either by combining naturally occurring components with synthetic chemicals or through combining synthetic chemicals alone to synthesize a drug designed for specific purposes. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is designed to work within the body to produce similar effects to morphine. However, it is essential to note that Fentanyl is far more powerful than morphine and drugs with similar effects. In fact, Fentanyl is significantly more potent than morphine. Data provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration states one kilogram of Fentanyl can kill as many as 500,000 people. To put this into perspective, one kilogram is equivalent to one liter of water or an average size pineapple.

Fentanyl is legally available by prescription only. It is frequently used to help patients struggling with chronic or severe pain conditions manage their symptoms. Also, it is used in the post-surgical environment to help patients manage pain where morphine and other pain management interventions are unsuccessful or poorly tolerated. Another common use for Fentanyl is to help patients who have developed a tolerance for other opioid drugs used to manage pain.

Unfortunately, in addition to its legal uses, Fentanyl is also manufactured illegally. In its legal or prescription form, Fentanyl is manufactured in several forms. The most commonly used for pain management are lozenges, injections, and patches that are placed on the skin. When manufactured outside the clinical setting for illicit use, Fentanyl generally appears as a nasal spray, pill, eye drop, or powder. Outside of the medical environment, Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs (including cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) to create a more intense high. Unfortunately, this practice can dramatically increase one’s risk for fatal overdose. Fentanyl is inexpensive to manufacture, making it a cheap additive widely used to make already strong drugs dangerously potent.

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Is Fentanyl Stronger than Morphine?

As previously noted, Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. Based on data provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Fentanyl is believed to be between eighty and one-hundred times more potent than morphine.

Is Fentanyl Dangerous?

Fentanyl works in the body in ways similar to other opioids. Taking Fentanyl produces effects by binding to specific receptor sites on the brain and spinal cord. These receptor sites, known as opioid receptors, are specific areas of the brain responsible for controlling how the brain sends and receives signals related to pain or emotion throughout the body. When someone uses Fentanyl for an extended time, especially when used outside of medical supervision, the brain begins to adapt to having Fentanyl in the body. This is called tolerance.

Once someone develops a tolerance to Fentanyl or any other drug, its effectiveness for symptom management begins to decline. In the case of Fentanyl, it becomes less and less effective at managing pain when taken as prescribed. As a result, users start to take more frequent and higher doses than prescribed to achieve the same effects their originally prescribed dose used to achieve. In addition to reduced pain management capabilities, a tolerance to Fentanyl also reduces the feelings of pleasure fentanyl produces. In time, it becomes challenging to feel pleasure without using; however, using does not produce the same level of pleasure it used to. This also leads to increasing dose amounts and frequency.

Someone who struggles with a fentanyl addiction begins to rely on the effects of Fentanyl to be pain-free and to experience emotions like joy and pleasure. Under normal circumstances, these emotions are produced when the brain releases dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain responsible for these and other emotions. Because Fentanyl can also help a user achieve these feelings, the brain starts to produce less and less dopamine. As dopamine levels reduce, day-to-day activities that usually create pleasurable emotions are no longer effective at doing so.

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Because users desire feelings of pain management and pleasure that Fentanyl can produce, they strive to maintain a consistent level of Fentanyl in their bodies to ensure the pain does not return. Because tolerance develops quickly, it takes far more Fentanyl that is considered safe to achieve the desired effects. This makes Fentanyl particularly dangerous. The potency of Fentanyl is already overwhelmingly high. This is why Fentanyl is typically used under medical supervision. It helps to control dosing and reduce the risk of potential addiction and overdose. In settings outside of the medical environment, this level of monitoring is not possible. As tolerance and addiction develop and doses of fentanyl increase, the risk of fatal overdose quickly increases.

Another danger of Fentanyl is cost. Compared to other opioids that produce a similar high, Fentanyl is far cheaper to produce (and buy), making it easier to manufacture and obtain. In addition, when someone uses Fentanyl, the speed at which the drug affects the body is far quicker than other drugs. In some cases, Fentanyl can quickly overpower the actions of the brain and respiratory systems leading to a fatal overdose. Because the effects of Fentanyl are so powerful and occur quickly, it may be impossible to recover from overdose or seek help in case of a medical emergency.

The Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose

When someone overdoses or is overdosing on Fentanyl, they will experience several physical effects. Because Fentanyl affects the body so quickly, it can produce potentially fatal symptoms far quicker than many other opioid drugs. During a Fentanyl overdose, someone may exhibit:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness and drowsiness
  • Limp body
  • Blue lips and fingernails
  • Dramatically reduced respiratory rate and heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness (or reduced consciousness)
  • Coma

If someone experiences three specific symptoms – respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing, pinpoint pupils, and decreased level of consciousness – it is a strong indicator they are experiencing a fentanyl overdose.

Fentanyl Withdrawal and Detox

Ongoing use of Fentanyl, even when used as part of a therapeutic treatment program, can lead to dependency and addiction. With time, most people develop a tolerance to the effects of the drug leading to significant challenges stopping or reducing use. When you have developed an addiction to Fentanyl, and you try to reduce or stop using it, you will inevitably experience withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, fentanyl withdrawal is often complicated and unpleasant. Because Fentanyl is an opioid, withdrawal can also lead to potentially dangerous or fatal withdrawal symptoms underscoring the vital importance of seeking medically supported detox at a rehab like Hotel California by the Sea before beginning your sobriety journey.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as six hours after one’s last dose of the drug. There are several common withdrawal symptoms one can expect to have as their body cleanses itself of Fentanyl. These include agitation, problems sleeping, stomach problems, anxiety, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sweating. In some cases, severe symtoms like irregular heart beat, difficulties breathing, delirium tremens (DTs) and seizures can occur. These, more severe symptoms make detoxing in a safe and s

upported envronment under medically supervised detox vital to your health and safety.

If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to Fentanyl, seeking professional detox care is vital to safely and successfully putting addiction in the past. Choosing to quit fentanyl cold turkey can be dangerous and, in some cases, lead to fatal medical complications. Let the professionals at Hotel California by the Sea support you as you begin your detox journey. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about how our medically assisted detox and comprehensive therapy programs can help you stop using Fentanyl and achieve lasting health and sobriety.

Schiller, E.Y., & Mechanic, O.J. (2019). Opioid Overdose. StatPearls [Internet], Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.