Patients suffering from chronic pain who may have become tolerant to other opioids, like cancer patients, may be prescribed fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic rapid-release opioid drug hundreds of times more potent than heroin and 80 times more potent than morphine, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Fentanyl, like the other opioids, functions as a pain reliever, depressing pain receptors in the brain and body. Many opioids are extended-release, while fentanyl is fast-acting, and therefore, it is often used post-op for surgery patients. Fentanyl is either injected, taken in lozenge form, or used as a transdermal extended-release patch. Fentanyl is intended for short-term use due to its high potency and potential for abuse.
Opioids work by binding to receptor sites, primarily in the central nervous system (CNS), that are responsible for pain and emotions. This class of drugs, derived from the opium poppy plant, produces relaxing and pleasant feelings. Fentanyl, as well as other opioid drugs, disrupts the brain’s natural pleasure and reward pathways, making you feel good while taking them, therefore increasing your desire to use them.
Over time, like with any opioid drug, chronic use or abuse can lead to a tolerance; users will require more of the drug to produce the desired euphoric effects. Tolerance all too often develops into a dependence, in which your system feels more normal with the drug than without it. Fentanyl abuse is defined as any nonmedical use of the drug. In 2011, it was responsible for 20,034 visits to emergency departments (EDs), as published by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).
Particulars of Fentanyl Abuse
Like many prescription drugs, fentanyl abuse is often due to drug diversion. Diversion is the use of pharmaceuticals for recreational purposes. In the case of fentanyl, diversion most likely occurs due to pharmacy theft, bogus prescriptions, or illegal distribution by patients or even physicians. In fact, physicians are at a particularly high risk for fentanyl abuse. Anesthesiologists are the most likely to abuse a drug like fentanyl. Overall, physicians have a higher rate of addiction to substances than the general public, as high as 10 to 12 percent, as reported by Minnesota Medicine.
Fentanyl is prescribed under names such as:
The patch form of fentanyl is often cut up and sold in pieces to be chewed or smoked. The gel can be inhaled, or the drug can be extracted for injection as well. All of these methods bypass the patch’s extended-release method, sending the drugs into the system faster than intended and often with disastrous results. Fentanyl is also mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine in illegal labs and sold on the street. This combination is highly hazardous as the interaction of the substances can increase the potency and potential side effects.
Health Risks of Fentanyl Abuse
Fentanyl abuse is highly dangerous due to its rapid crossing of the blood-brain barrier, and even a small amount can produce toxic results. The CDC and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) conducted a time-sensitive surveillance between 2005 and 2007, which found illicit fentanyl use to be involved in 1,013 deaths across several states surveyed, particularly in the northeastern United States.
If you have become tolerant on another opioid and seek out fentanyl as a replacement, you may not realize how much more potent it is and may take too much, resulting in an accidental overdose. Since fentanyl is also often mixed with other drugs, buying it on the street can result in not really knowing what is in it or how it may interact with your system. Signs of an overdose are:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slowed heart rate
- Shallow or slowed breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Blue lips or fingernails
If you suspect an overdose, seek immediate medical attention. An overdose of fentanyl is a medical emergency that is potentially life-threatening. Fentanyl is a CNS depressant, and most overdoses are caused when the drug suppresses the respiratory system, causing breathing to stop.
Other health risks of abusing fentanyl include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Decreased respiration
- Slowed heart rate
- Altered blood pressure
- Stiff muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Rash, if using patch form
In addition to these potential side effects, abusing fentanyl can lead to a physical and psychological dependence or addiction. This can then lead to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is removed.
Withdrawal from fentanyl is characterized by flu-like symptoms as well as restlessness, anxiety, irritability, mental impairment, paranoia, mood swings, and depression. These effects can be extreme, depending on the length of time spent abusing fentanyl, the amount abused, the method of abuse, and the type of fentanyl abused. Stopping fentanyl cold turkey can be dangerous; therefore, the detox process needs to be managed by a health care professional.
Signs of Addiction
Recognizing an addiction is not always an easy task. Many times it starts out with a legitimate prescription. Once the prescription runs out, any attempt to refill it or shop around for a different doctor to prescribe fentanyl may be signs of an addiction. Any nonmedical use of fentanyl is considered abuse. Addicts’ lives are consumed with the drug — obtaining the drug, using it and suffering the withdrawal effects after use. Addicts may go to great lengths to obtain fentanyl, getting them into financial or even legal trouble. Work and/or school performances may start to slide.
Fentanyl causes users to feel euphoria as well as mellow and even drowsy. An addict may have changes in his personality to reflect these effects of the drug, as well as mood swings or personality shifts. Addiction often leads to feelings of self-loathing, guilt, or shame, causing addicts to withdraw from friends and family and prefer isolation. Personal relationships will suffer, and addicts may no longer have any interest in things they used to like to do.
An addict’s health may also deteriorate, and you may notice weight loss and a decline in personal appearance. Fentanyl is a dangerous drug; if you suspect fentanyl abuse, it is time to seek professional help.
Treatment for fentanyl abuse typically starts with detox. Detox is the process of purging toxins from your body, and in the case of fentanyl, it often needs to be medically managed. Medical detox is the process of using pharmaceuticals to help relieve some of the more intense withdrawal symptoms.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to help reverse fentanyl’s effects in the case of an overdose. Oftentimes, detox includes a tapering-off, or weaning, schedule in which the amount of fentanyl in the body is reduced slowly down to zero over a set amount of time. Successful treatment programs employ evidence-based methods for treating both the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse and addiction.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a useful tool that works to modify negative behavior and though patterns. Support groups play a key role in achieving long-term success and decreasing the chance for relapse.
Here at Axis, we offer comprehensive addiction treatment that is personalized for each unique individual. No two addictions are the same; therefore, no two treatment methods will be exactly the same. We provide luxury accommodations and amenities to make the treatment process comfortable while clients undergo intensive therapies.
Our compassionate and attentive staff members promote both physical and psychological healing. An intake specialist is standing by to explain the many options available at Axis and to help you decide which one may offer the best chance at recovery for you or your loved one. Call now.