Fentanyl is a prescription opioid pain reliever, as well as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Typically, it is prescribed to patients who are experiencing intense pain, such as those who are recovering from a surgical procedure. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 22.2 million Americans aged 12 or older are substance abusers or addicts, and 2.1 million of them are hooked on prescription opioid painkillers like fentanyl.
How do you know if you’re addicted to an opioid like fentanyl? Typically, the substance abuser will experience and display certain red flags that are markers of an addiction. Many of these symptoms often flare up when an addict is in need of another dose and, thus, entering withdrawal. The following signs and symptoms are indicative of a strong dependence on opioids:
- Swelling of extremities
- Loss of consciousness
- Confused state of mind
- Nausea, with or without vomiting
- Respiratory depression
- Accelerated heart rate
Symptoms of withdrawal from fentanyl include:
- Restless legs
- Watery eyes
- Irritable mood
- Muscle pain
- Trouble sleeping
Coming Back Down
Whether an addict chooses to detox voluntarily, or they encounter withdrawal due to a limited supply to stave it off, the symptoms are the same. Fentanyl is a powerful drug and withdrawing from it isn’t pleasant. The Norwalk Reflector reports that the drug is 50 times stronger than the heroin addicts buy on the streets and 100 times more powerful than prescription-strength morphine.
The trademark goosebumps that fentanyl addicts experience during withdrawal are caused by shivering and chills that come with detoxing from opiates as the body struggles to regulate its temperature. There are immediate risks when withdrawing from a drug like this. Coma and death are real concerns when withdrawing from any opioid drug. Respiratory distress resulting from withdrawal can not only be frightening, but it can also lead to other more dangerous side effects. During withdrawal, bothersome symptoms can be decreased in part by medications like clonidine, reportedly by 50 to 75 percent, Healthline states.
Unfortunately, a large number of addicts end up relapsing when they’re trying to detox from fentanyl. This isn’t just a matter of returning to drug abuse; there are serious threats to the individual’s life when this happens. During withdrawal, the user’s tolerance for fentanyl instantly starts decreasing. Often, a substance abuser will then relapse and take their usual dose, which has become more than their body can physically handle. In these cases, overdose is likely. Between April 2005 and March 2007, 1,013 people died from overdoses of an illegal version of the drug that was likely trafficked in from Mexico, USA Today reports.
Withdrawal is further complicated if more than one substance is being abused. This is common among fentanyl users, because they often take their dose laced with other drugs — a practice that serves to heighten the effect of the substances. Medscape notes over 2,000 people died in America in 2006 from overdoses of fentanyl that was mixed with heroin. Today, the trend is going strong, with the Providence Journal reporting 34 of Rhode Island’s 46 tested drug overdose cases, from the start of 2015 through March 17, 2015, involved an illicit variant of fentanyl. In the report, many ingested the drug without knowing it when they thought they had purchased pure heroin from a dealer.
Who Needs Treatment?
MedlinePlus states around 9 percent of the American population misuses opioids at some point in their lives. Most of the people who use fentanyl have come upon it via their own legitimate prescription for the pain medication. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes a steady increase in the number of prescriptions being doled out for opioid pain relievers over the years, with only 76 million in 1991 jumping to about 207 million in 2013 in America alone. A lot of fentanyl abusers started out as patients who were prescribed the drug for real pain relief, but others get the drug off the street, and many use it as a substitute for heroin, which can be harder to find or afford in some markets.
Surprisingly, many fentanyl addicts are actually prescribing physicians themselves. The statistics on how many doctors are addicted remains rather unclear, but anecdotal evidence points to numbers that are discouraging. According to the Issues Berkeley Medical Journal, 7.6 percent of all Florida-based physicians sought substance abuse treatment between 1980 and 2006, noting this only covers the small fraction of doctors who come forward and accept help. The New York Times reports some 60 to 70 percent of all anesthesiologists who are drug abusers prefer fentanyl as their drug of choice.
Another demographic of drug abusers who continue to remain deep in the trenches of addiction includes those with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 53 percent of drug abusers are also battling one or more serious mental health disorders. These patients are most definitely best served in a supervised treatment setting during withdrawal.
The most practical and effective approach in treating any opiate addiction, fentanyl included, is a long-term opioid antagonist maintenance program. Currently, the most popular method includes daily doses of either methadone or buprenorphine. Methadone is a full opioid agonist that works by tricking the opioid receptors in the brain into believing the regular dose of fentanyl has been consumed. While partial opioid agonist buprenorphine does that same, it limits the potential for abuse with a ceiling effect that inhibits the user from achieving a high, even with multiple doses. The California Society of Addiction Medicine supports a 60-90 percent rate of success for methadone. Buprenorphine boasts similar rates of efficacy at 88 percent, per The Fix. Both drug therapies are most successful when used for an extended period of time, if not indefinitely.
Are you struggling with an addiction to fentanyl? We can help. At Axis, we understand the importance of a well-rounded treatment plan. Our focus is on healing not only the physical and mental addiction to fentanyl, but also on addressing the problems that lead addicts to drug abuse. Whether you’re suffering from issues of mental health, recovering from a trauma, or something else entirely, we’ll tailor your rehab experience to remedying the causes and effects of your addiction. All you have to do is accept help; call today to find out the many forms it comes in.