Fentanyl was the substance responsible for the third wave of the opioid epidemic.
Since 2013, a sharp uptick in deaths involving synthetic opioids – illicitly manufactured fentanyl in particular – means the damage wreaked by opioid abuse continues nationwide. While there are treatment programs like Huntington Beach rehabs and sober living homes to help those who are struggling, it may be good to start with an overview of the drug first.
What is fentanyl, then, and why is it so dangerous?
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s similar to morphine, but between 50 and 100 times more powerful.
A prescription drug, fentanyl is marketed as:
Over the past decade, more and more people have been using fentanyl sourced on the black market.
Just like morphine, this drug is used for the treatment of severe pain, especially following injury or surgery.
Sometimes, patients with chronic pain who are dependent on opioids may find relief from fentanyl.
Synthetic opioids are the most common culprits for drug overdoses in the United States.
What Is Fentanyl Used For?
The drug was first synthesized as a pain reliever, and it is still used today to treat chronic pain in opioid-tolerant patients as well as to treat severe pain post-surgery. The fentanyl half-life of four hours makes it ideal for recovery from analgesia and sedation.
These accepted medical uses means the DEA classifies fentanyl as a Schedule II controlled substance. Drugs in this class have a high potential for abuse and dependence, and they are also considered potentially dangerous. Cocaine, meth, Adderall, and Ritalin are all Schedule II substances.
Heroin, by contrast, is a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical use.
Fentanyl is sometimes diverted from licit use to abuse. Fentanyl is also manufactured on a large scale in clandestine labs.
The substance is flooding the United States, with Mexican cartels capitalizing on fentanyl as a cheap cutting agent for heroin. Cheap to produce and easier to obtain than heroin, traffickers cut batches of heroin with fentanyl, meaning many users overdose when using the same amount of the substance as normal.
And it’s the potency of fentanyl responsible for so many deaths at the hands of this substance.
How Strong is Fentanyl?
According to NIDA, fentanyl is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent.
Where 30mg is a lethal dose of heroin, 3mg – literally a few grains – is enough for a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Fentanyl Side Effects
This drug works in the same way as other opioids, binding to your body’s opioid receptors located in the areas of your brain that govern emotions and pain.
As you take more opioids over time, your brain adapts to the presence of the drug. Tolerance builds, meaning you need more opioids to achieve the same effect. At the same time, you become less sensitive to the effects of opioids, making it hard for you to feel real pleasure from anything besides drug use.
If addiction sets in, as happens frequently with sustained opioid abuse, compulsive drug seeking and drug use can dominate your life completely.
Many variables impact how fentanyl affects you. These include:
- Overall health
- How many opioids you take
- Whether or not you are using other substances
- If you are accustomed to taking opioids
The most common effects include:
- Breathing problems
Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline
If you become dependent on an opioid like this one, your brain will stop making enough neurotransmitters, becoming reliant on the interference of opioids. When the drug is removed, you will experience opioid withdrawal syndrome. This is the result of your brain attempting to restore balance.
In addition to powerful flu-like symptoms, you can also expect to experience intense psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Even if you are taking this drug in line with a prescription, dependence and addiction can still occur.
You should not stop taking a drug like fentanyl abruptly and without medical supervision.
The two most common approaches to opioid withdrawal are medical detox or tapering the dosage over time. Quitting any opioid cold turkey is inadvisable, and potentially even dangerous.
Opioid withdrawal typically begins 12 to 30 hours after the last dose, according to the National Library of Medicine.
In the case of fentanyl patches, the extended-release form of the drug has a lengthy, 17-hour half-life. This means withdrawal will set in a day or so after removing the fentanyl patch.
The following are all possible side effects associated with withdrawal from fentanyl patches like Duragesic:
- Runny nose
- Tearing up
- Stomach cramps
- Dilated pupils
- Pain in joints
- Pain in muscles
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
Withdrawal will peak within a few days. Symptoms should level off and subside after a week or so.
How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?
Fentanyl patches come in different doses, varying from 12 micrograms per hour to 100 micrograms per hour. You change the patches every 72 hours.
Your liver breaks down fentanyl into a substance called norfentanyl. This substance is mainly excreted by your kidneys.
The drug can be detected in the system for up to four days after the last use and will show up in a blood test from 5 to 48 hours after last use, in a urine test from 1 to 3 days after last use, and in a hair test for up to 3 months after last use.
If you overdose, you could find your breathing slows dramatically, and possibly even stops. This results in less oxygen reaching the brain, potentially triggering hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition that can bring about permanent brain damage, coma, and death.
Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. The medication binds rapidly to opioid receptors and blocks the effects of opioids in your system. Since the drug is so much stronger than other opioids like morphine, multiple doses of this medication might be required.
If you suspect someone has overdosed on this drug, call 911 immediately.
Once the person has been administered naloxone, they need to be monitored for at least two hours after the last dose of naloxone. This is to ensure no further breathing problems ensue.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction at District
Just like other opioid use disorders, treatment depends on the scope and severity of the addiction.
In most cases, medical detox is advisable. Following detoxification, you can engage with an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program (PHP), the most intensive forms of outpatient rehab.
FDA-approved medications like methadone and buprenorphine can help alleviate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Naltrexone can also be prescribed to stop fentanyl from delivering any euphoric effects.
Alongside evidence-based medication-assisted treatment, you will also benefit from individual and group counseling, psychotherapy, and holistic therapy.
To stop abusing fentanyl and reclaim your life, reach out to the friendly TDRC admissions team at 844.287.8506.