In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an alarming statistic: the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have topped 100,000 a year. Most people consider cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin among the most dangerous street drugs.
However, in recent years, fentanyl — including prescription and illicit sources — is claiming the lives of so many, including teens. What is fentanyl, and why is it so lethal?
What Is Fentanyl?
As a synthetic opioid pain medication, fentanyl is made from the poppy plant and manufactured in a lab setting. Although it can be used for pain relief, especially after surgery, this drug is known to be highly addictive.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as an analgesic drug, fentanyl is 100 timesmore potent than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin.
The DEA classifies fentanyl as a Schedule II drug. This requires that the use of prescription fentanyl should be closely monitored by medical professionals. Like other types of opioids that work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, fentanyl also affects neurotransmitters, leading to pain relief and a sense of euphoria.
What Happens to the Body After Taking Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is highly addictive. Even after the first dose, a person’s body may crave it again after the pleasure effects subside. Fentanyl induces a euphoria much more rapidly than other drugs. Repeated use may lead to slowed heart and respiratory rates, sedation, drowsiness, and nausea.
Fentanyl use is potentially lethal when used repeatedly without monitoring, leading to overdose risks. As a person’s tolerance builds, so will the impact of the drug. When the central nervous system becomes depressed, and the person uses fentanyl repeatedly, an overdose may occur.
Why Does Overdose Happen?
What makes opioids highly effective for pain management also makes them potentially dangerous. Once a person develops a dependence or addiction to a certain type of prescription opioid, such as fentanyl, danger looms. Because opioids are legally accessible, the risk for overdose increases.
The illegal sale of fentanyl has also flooded the market, including online channels. Many teenagers have died from overdosing online-purchased fentanyl.
Because of the high potency and lack of monitoring, people may consume large doses of fentanyl. Few people are aware that only about two milligrams of pure fentanyl are considered a lethal dose. In the illegal drug market, over 42% of confiscated fentanyl pills contain over two milligrams.
Overdose also happens when people unknowingly mix fentanyl with other medications. There is a significant risk that illegal drugs have been intentionally contaminated with fentanyl.
Because of its potency and low cost, drug dealers have been mixing fentanyl with other drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. As a result, some drug users who think they are buying Xanax or Oxycontin are actually buying fentanyl-laced drugs. This is another reason why fentanyl use or overdose happen frequently.
What to Do in Situations of Fentanyl Overdose
Recognition of the first signs of a drug overdose is essential. The quickest and safest way to reverse overdose effects is to administer naloxone, an opioid antagonist.
Naloxone works by attaching to opioid receptors and reverses the effects of opioid drugs. Administered by nasal spray, naloxone can quickly help an overdosing person recover breathing.
Families with loved ones who struggle with opioid addiction should have naloxone nearby, ask their family members to carry it and let friends know where it is.
Naloxone cannot treat opioid addiction. Once an overdose occurs, it is urgent for one to begin detox treatment and residential recovery.
Where to Seek Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
It is important to know that although fentanyl is highly addictive and more lethal compared with other drugs, fentanyl addiction is treatable. Standard treatment procedures, including medications, detox, residential treatment, and aftercare can be effective.
Take medications, for example. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), three medications are able to assist with detox from opioids: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These substances bind to opioid receptors, blocking the “high” from fentanyl and reducing cravings.
There are proven methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, group counseling, and family-based interventions that help individuals with fentanyl addiction recover. The road to full recovery, however, may take a longer time. Relapse prevention is also vital for these people. The risk of having another overdose after sobriety is high.
Repeated fentanyl use can cause brain damage and mental health problems. Therefore, it is critical that an individual is correctly diagnosed so that health professionals can create a comprehensive plan to treat addiction and mental disorders simultaneously.
These days, we frequently hear the tragic news of teenagers dying from overdosing on fentanyl they purchased online. If you are concerned about a loved one’s risk of exposure to illicit drugs such as fentanyl, do you how where to seek help? Educating yourself and your loved ones is the first step toward protection. Next, you need to build a positive support system around your family. At Casa Recovery, we have a group of experienced health professionals who support families affected by addiction. Your treatment team will work with you to provide customized efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. We provide both individual, group, and family counseling. Our mental health specialists can help you rebuild healthy relationships. Our family-based programs can be the best support you receive on this challenging journey. Call today at (888) 928-2272.