Physicians prescribe fentanyl for their cancer patients. For a patient to be prescribed fentanyl, the physician must have already prescribed a medication that treats the pain around the clock. Physicians prescribe fentanyl on top of this other pain medication to treat breakthrough pain that occurs while the patient is being treated with the first pain medication.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is created in a laboratory. Synthetic opioids target the same areas of the brain that natural opioids do, so they also relieve severe pain. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Because fentanyl is such a potent drug, illicit drug manufacturers have been lacing heroin with it for the purpose of making the substance stronger. When drug manufacturers started to do this, they didn’t inform their customers that the heroin they were purchasing also had fentanyl. This led to many overdose deaths.
Several Types of Fentanyl
Brand names for fentanyl include:
- Lazanda: a nasal spray that is prescribed to relieve cancer pain
- Abstral: a pill that patients place underneath their tongues to relieve breakthrough cancer pain and that physicians prescribe for opioid-tolerant patients
- Subsys: immediately relieves breakthrough cancer pain when the patient administers it by spraying it underneath the tongue
- Sublimaze: fentanyl that patients receive in the hospital that can relieve moderate to severe pain for up to three days
- Actiq: a lozenge has been placed on a plastic stick and that is prescribed for patients after they have been given other pain relievers
Fentanyl attaches to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. It relieves pain by stopping the nerves from sending pain signals between the brain and the body. It goes by several names on the street, including Crush, TNT, Dance Fever, China White, China Girl, and Apache.
The Schedules for Controlled Substances
Fentanyl is a Schedule II Controlled Substance. This means that a physician may prescribe it to treat severe chronic pain. It may also be prescribed to relieve the pain associated with surgery. If patients use fentanyl on a long-term basis, it has the potential to cause them to become addicted. Therefore, they must be observed closely while taking this medication because there is a high potential for the misuse or the abuse of this drug.
Fentanyl is also clandestinely made for purchase on the streets of the United States. It began on the West Coast in the 1970s, but in the 1980s, the Drug Enforcement Agency began to control substances like fentanyl.
In 2013, drug traffickers began to circulate illicit fentanyl again. Authorities believe that clandestinely made fentanyl is being manufactured outside of the United States and trafficked through Mexico. Some people are taking this substance in powder form, but many people have also been taking illicit fentanyl in tablet form.
Deaths From Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl
It seems that deaths due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl are on the rise. From 2018 to 2019, deaths due to illicitly manufactured opioids increased by more than 16%. In 2019, there were 12 times more deaths due to synthetic opioids than in 2013. Also in 2019, more than 36,000 people died of overdoses that were due to synthetic opioids, and it looks as if the number of overdose deaths due to opioids continued to increase during the pandemic.
How Does Illicit Fentanyl Affect Users?
Illicit fentanyl produces the same effects as morphine and other opioid analgesics. These include euphoria, relaxation, pain relief, and sedation. It also produces unpleasant effects, such as respiratory depression, pupillary constriction, urinary retention, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion.
It is more dangerous to abuse fentanyl when you don’t have a tolerance to opioids. If you do, it can result in “cross tolerance.” This occurs when you become tolerant to drugs that are in the same class as opioids. For example, when you become tolerant to an opioid, it increases the risk that you may become dependent or addicted on another opioid, possibly even overdosing. If, after developing a tolerance for opioids, you begin to take larger doses, this choice will increase the chances that you will overdose on the drug.
It is very dangerous to abuse fentanyl because this substance can depress your respiratory system so that it fails, which can lead to an overdose. If you were to mix fentanyl with other drugs, the side effects could become even more dangerous. It doesn’t matter whether you are taking a prescribed medication strictly as your doctor prescribed it or using illicit fentanyl; it can be a very dangerous drug.
Addiction to Fentanyl
After some patients have been prescribed fentanyl, they may have stopped following their doctors’ instructions about how to take this medication safely. Because fentanyl works within the central nervous system, it causes the brain to produce large amounts of dopamine. Dopamine is known as a “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it causes people to feel euphoric and happy. As fentanyl floods the brain with dopamine, it changes the brain as time goes on.
These changes result in neurochemical alterations that cause people taking prescribed fentanyl to become dependent on the drug. Because it is a controlled substance that must have a prescription, patients have been resorting to taking illicit forms of fentanyl when they cannot obtain a new prescription.
These patients became addicted to fentanyl, and they believe that they need it to feel like themselves again. Because they are dependent on the drug, they need to keep increasing the amount of fentanyl they are taking to recreate the good feelings they experienced the first time that they took the drug.
It doesn’t take very long for someone to go from taking fentanyl as prescribed to being addicted to the substance. Because the medical community knows the withdrawal symptoms to look for when determining whether or not someone is addicted to fentanyl, we can treat substance use disorders quickly.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms?
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Muscle aches
- Pupillary dilation
Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a highly dangerous situation for someone withdrawing from fentanyl. The vomiting and diarrhea can be so persistent that they cause the person to become dehydrated. This can also lead to an elevated amount of salt in the blood and heart failure.
Serious Withdrawal Symptoms
Anyone complaining of the following withdrawal symptoms is experiencing serious symptoms that must be treated as an emergency:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Decreased urge to breathe
- Slow, shallow breathing
Getting Treatment for a Fentanyl Addiction
Stopping fentanyl use on your own is possible, but it isn’t advisable. One reason is because of the risks listed above, and the other reason is that opiate withdrawal is particularly unbearable. Reducing the dose may not help because you may still experience sensations that you cannot tolerate. Our medication-assisted treatment program can help clients tolerate the withdrawal symptoms. We also provide you with medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to make sure that you tolerate the withdrawal process safely and comfortably. For example, naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine bind to your brain’s opioid receptors so that fentanyl and other opioids cannot do so. Therefore, if you were to take fentanyl while you are on one of these drugs, the fentanyl would be unable to cause you to get high. These medications have the result of keeping you from obsessing about fentanyl.
MAT is a perfectly safe treatment for fentanyl addiction, but you may have heard rumors that make you feel apprehensive about trying it. For example, you might be worried that you will be trading your addiction to fentanyl for an addiction to naltrexone. However, the drug is there to help you withstand the withdrawal symptoms. Once all of the fentanyl is out of your system, you will no longer need the MAT drug.
We address your psychological dependence on fentanyl with our 12-step program. We do this by introducing you to behavioral therapies that teach you the coping skills that you will need throughout your life. At the same time, we must treat your mental health disorder if you have one.
In America, 7.7 million adults have a co-occurring mental health disorder and substance use disorder. If this is the case for you or your loved one, we will diagnose it and treat it. We cannot treat your substance use disorder if we do not also address your mental health disorder because the mental health disorder may have been the reason that you started to take substances in the first place. It is also possible that the substance use disorder was the first disorder to present itself.
Clients also have the opportunity to meet with their own therapist for individual counseling. This gives you the chance to work with your therapist on a one-on-one basis so that you can delve into all of your innermost secrets. Meetings are also integral in addiction treatment, so you will also have group therapy sessions. Holistic therapy is also a part of this treatment. After your initial treatment is over, we will not leave you on your own. We also have aftercare that ensures that you have a chance to put what you learned in rehab into practice and to live your best life from then on.
If you are ready to get help for a loved one or if you need help for fentanyl addiction, contact us at Granite Recovery Centers today.