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What is Fentanyl?

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What Makes Fentanyl Dangerous?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid medication that is primarily used for managing severe pain. It belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids, which also includes substances like morphine and oxycodone.

Navigation: What is Fentanyl?, Fentanyl: What is it for?, Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous?, What is a Fentanyl Overdose?, Why Are Prescription Opioids Like Fentanyl Abuse?, Helping a Loved One with Fentanyl Addiction, Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


At the center of the opioid epidemic is fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that is responsible for an increasing number of opioid deaths.

In 2022, over 71,000 people in the US died from an overdose on fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) now considers it the “deadliest drug threat facing this nation”.

But what makes fentanyl so dangerous? It is important to understand what this drug is, how it works, and how it impacts individuals. This will help in addiction prevention and will also allow you to support a loved one who is already struggling with drug abuse and addiction.

To avoid opioid overdose, we need to know all about fentanyl and its effects. Let’s take a closer look.


What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid medication that is primarily used for managing severe pain. It belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids, which also includes substances like morphine and oxycodone.

What makes this drug unique is that it is estimated to be about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. This is why it is typically prescribed in cases where other pain medications have proven ineffective or inadequate.

Just like other prescription opioids, fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the perception of pain. It can be administered in various forms, including transdermal patches, lozenges, nasal sprays, and injections.

However, because of the drug’s potency and its ability to produce a sense of relaxation and euphoria, it is an incredibly dangerous and addictive drug with a high risk for overdose. Since fentanyl overdoses can lead to respiratory depression, this can be life-threatening.

Fentanyl has legitimate medical uses, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused like illicit drugs. For example, mixing fentanyl with other drugs can increase the risk of overdose. It has even gained notoriety due to its involvement in the opioid crisis.

Illicitly produced fentanyl, often mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine, has contributed to a significant increase in overdose deaths. It is crucial to handle fentanyl with extreme caution and use it only as prescribed by a healthcare professional.


Fentanyl: What is it for?


In the US, Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and dependence but is also recognized for its medical uses.

This highly potent synthetic opioid is only prescribed to manage pain in cancer patients, chronic pain, and post-surgical pain. It may also be used for breakthrough pain, which refers to sudden and intense pain that “breaks through” the effects of regular pain management medications. Because it is 100 times stronger than morphine, it is extremely effective at pain management.

Fentanyl is often used during surgery and other medical procedures to induce and maintain anesthesia. It helps prevent pain and keep the patient comfortable during the procedure.

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that is significantly stronger than other commonly prescribed opioids like oxycodone. Due to its potency, fentanyl carries a high risk of misuse, dependence, and overdose. It should only be used under the close supervision of a healthcare professional and according to the prescribed dosage.

Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous?

Fentanyl’s potency and chemical makeup make it a prime target for illicit use and drug abuse. Fentanyl is much stronger than morphine and other opioids, meaning even small doses can lead to overdose. This is one of the reasons why fentanyl overdoses are so common. It is a highly dangerous substance that binds to opioid receptors faster than other drugs.

Like other opioids, fentanyl can cause severe respiratory depression, slowing down or stopping a person’s breathing. This effect is particularly dangerous because it can lead to brain damage or death if medical intervention is not provided promptly.

Even just two milligrams of fentanyl can prove lethal. Due to its strength, it is very challenging to accurately measure and distribute safe doses, especially when it is mixed with other drugs or sold illicitly. People who unknowingly consume fentanyl or individuals with a low tolerance to opioids are particularly susceptible to accidental overdoses. The effects of these drugs can be unpredictable and deadly.

Speaking of accidental overdoses, when you obtain fentanyl illicitly, there is a chance that what you are getting is mixed with other drugs like cocaine or heroin. Fentanyl is often produced illegally in clandestine laboratories and sold on the black market. Illicit manufacturing means that the potency of the drug is unknown and inconsistent.

Not only that, but fentanyl is also highly addictive. Taking it for an extended period or in high doses can quickly lead to dependence. For addicted individuals, it is extremely difficult to break the cycle of addiction. Every time they try to quit or reduce their intake, they experience severe withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.

Fentanyl is increasingly becoming available through illegal channels, with dealers using it to adulterate or replace other drugs. Its low cost of production and high potency make it attractive for drug traffickers. Users may unknowingly consume fentanyl, believing they are taking a different substance, which puts them at a higher risk of overdose.

Due to the dangerous nature of fentanyl, it is crucial to raise awareness about its risks, promote harm reduction strategies, and provide access to effective addiction treatment and support.

What is a Fentanyl Overdose?

A fentanyl overdose occurs when a person takes an excessive amount of fentanyl, leading to dangerous and life-threatening effects.

When taken in excessive amounts, fentanyl can depress the central nervous system, resulting in respiratory depression, slowed heart rate, and dangerously low blood pressure.

An overdose can occur due to various reasons, including accidental ingestion of a higher-than-prescribed dose, recreational abuse of the drug, or unknowingly consuming a substance that has been adulterated or laced with fentanyl.

The most common symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include the following: extreme drowsiness, loss of consciousness, shallow breathing, slowed heart rate, clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, bluish tint to lips or nails (cyanosis), dizziness, confusion, and muscle weakness.

A fentanyl overdose is a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention is necessary. If you suspect someone may be experiencing a fentanyl overdose, call 911 right away.

The overdose reversal medication naloxone (Narcan) is typically used to counteract the effects of fentanyl and other opioid overdoses. It can be administered by medical professionals or even by bystanders in some cases.

Why Are Prescription Opioids Like Fentanyl Abuse?

There are many different reasons why people abuse this synthetic opioid drug. Some of it is because fentanyl is just that potent that people can easily get hooked after taking their prescription.

Even a small amount of fentanyl can produce a strong and rapid euphoric effect. Some people experience this high accidentally while others seek it out for recreational purposes. Most of the time, people who willingly abuse fentanyl underestimate its risks and end up getting addicted.

Fentanyl is similar to its fellow opioids in that abusing it can lead to physical and psychological dependence. When taken regularly, the body can develop a tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects. Over time, this can lead to addiction, where individuals have a compulsive need to use it despite already experiencing the consequences.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl has become increasingly available in recent years, leading to its use as a substitute for other opioids or as an adulterant in street drugs. Fentanyl is relatively cheap to produce, making it an attractive option for drug dealers seeking to increase their profit margins. This contributes to the high number of opioid overdose deaths in the country.

Some individuals may unknowingly consume fentanyl due to its presence in counterfeit prescription drugs or as an adulterant in street drugs. Lack of awareness or misinformation about the dangers of fentanyl can lead to accidental overdose or dependence.

People who already struggle with substance abuse issues, such as opioid addiction, may turn to fentanyl due to its potency and availability. This population is particularly vulnerable to the risks of fentanyl abuse.

In order to keep yourself safe, make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and never take more than the recommended dosage. If you experience any side effects, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Helping a Loved One with Fentanyl Addiction

Supporting someone through addiction can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to help them. Keep in mind that the following are just general guidelines to consider when helping a loved one with a fentanyl problem. It’s always important to consult with healthcare professionals or addiction specialists for personalized advice.

The first step you need to take is to educate yourself. Learn about fentanyl addiction, its effects, and the recovery process. Understanding the challenges your loved one faces can help you provide more effective support. This can also help eliminate stigma, which is one of the greatest barriers to addiction treatment.

Approach your loved one with compassion, understanding, and a non-judgmental attitude. Always communicate with empathy. Express your concerns and let them know that you are there to support them.

Let your loved one know that you are available to listen to them without judgment. Emotional support is crucial during the recovery process, as addiction can be a deeply isolating experience.

Suggest that they seek professional assistance. Encourage them to speak with a doctor, counselor, or addiction specialist who can provide guidance and create a treatment plan tailored to their needs.

You can even suggest that they join a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous or other addiction recovery groups. These groups offer a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, learn from others, and find encouragement.

Help your loved one research and explore various treatment options. This could include inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs, detoxification services, counseling, or medication-assisted treatment (MAT). If you have already spoken with a healthcare provider, encourage your loved one to follow through with the recommended treatment plan.

The key to a successful treatment is personalized care. Everyone is different, so the exact treatment approach may vary from one person to another. It’s all about finding the rehab center and program that suits the patient’s needs.

While they are going through treatment, make sure you create a safe and drug-free environment for them at home. Remove any substances that may trigger cravings or enable their addiction. Encourage healthy activities, such as exercise or hobbies, and provide distractions that can help your loved one focus on recovery.

Remember that addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. Your loved one will have to work on their addiction actively so that they can stay sober. If they are not making any progress, be patient but also know where to set boundaries. You don’t want to enable their unhealthy choices and behaviors either. Communicate boundaries and make it clear what behaviors you find unacceptable. Establish consequences for violating those boundaries so you can protect both your loved one and yourself.

Supporting someone with addiction can be emotionally and physically draining. Make sure to prioritize your own self-care, seek support from others, and consider attending support groups for friends and family members of individuals struggling with addiction.

Recovery is a journey, and it takes time. Understand that setbacks and relapses may occur along the way. Remain patient and supportive, and encourage your loved one to keep moving forward.

Addiction is a complex issue, and professional guidance is essential. Encourage your loved one to seek help from medical professionals or addiction specialists who can provide the best course of action based on their individual circumstances.

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

Treating fentanyl addiction typically involves a combination of medical, psychological, and social interventions. Here are some common approaches used in the treatment of fentanyl addiction:

Medical Detoxification: Withdrawal from fentanyl can be challenging and potentially dangerous. Medical detoxification, also known as medical detox, is conducted in a supervised setting such as a detox center or hospital. This process helps manage withdrawal symptoms while the person gradually lowers their drug intake. Medical detox ensures the safety of the individual while they go through withdrawal. Medications may be administered to alleviate discomfort and minimize cravings.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Speaking of medications, MAT involves the use of medications to support recovery and minimize cravings. Buprenorphine and methadone are two common medications used for opioid addiction, including fentanyl. These medications help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing individuals to focus on their recovery. Naltrexone is another medication that blocks the effects of opioids and can be used after detoxification.

Behavioral Therapies: Various psychotherapies can be effective in treating fentanyl addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients identify and change destructive patterns of thinking and behavior. Contingency management, which provides incentives for maintaining abstinence, and motivational interviewing, which enhances motivation to change, are other commonly used approaches.

Support Groups: Engaging in support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or other peer support programs can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and receiving support from others who have faced similar challenges can be instrumental in maintaining long-term recovery.

Holistic Approaches: Complementary therapies such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and art therapy may be beneficial for some individuals. These approaches can help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance overall well-being during the recovery process.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Continued support is crucial for maintaining recovery after completing initial treatment. This may involve ongoing therapy, participation in support groups, regular check-ins with healthcare providers, and developing a relapse prevention plan.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s treatment needs may vary, and a personalized approach tailored to the individual’s circumstances is essential. Seeking professional guidance is vital in order to receive the most appropriate and effective treatment for fentanyl addiction.

Look for a rehab near you today and learn more about specific treatment programs for fentanyl addiction. The journey to recovery begins today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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