Fentanyl addiction is a growing concern in the United States. As the most potent opioid available in the medical field, Fentanyl has added a new level of opioid abuse and addiction that has become a growing concern for the medical and addiction treatment community.
Fentanyl is not a particularly new drug, as it was first synthesized in 1960, and made available for personal medical use in the United States in the 1990’s in the form of the Duragesic® patch. Fentanyl comes in several different forms:
- Duragesic® patch
- Actiq® lollipop
- Fentora® buccal tablets
- Onsolis® sublingual film
- Abstral® sublingual tablet
- Subsys® sublingual spray
With exception to the patch, all forms of Fentanyl have an immediate onset and are intended for “breakthrough” pain, which refers to periods of heightened pain despite around-the-clock pain management.
Dangers Fentanyl Addiction
Like any other opiate or opioid (synthetic or man-made opiates), Fentanyl is a depressant drug that has the same sedative, calming and analgesic effects. Because Fentanyl is so strong, it is prescribed in micrograms, rather than milligrams, like most every other prescription drug. Additionally, most of the formulations of Fentanyl are very short acting, lasting up to 1 hour. Because of this short length of action, individuals who abuse Fentanyl would need to do so on a frequent basis to maintain its effects. As with any other opioid, the more frequently Fentanyl is used, the greater the tolerance becomes. As tolerance grows, more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effects. Since Fentanyl is such a powerful opioid, the more of it an individual uses, the greater his or her risks for fatal overdose become.
How Do Addicts Get Fentanyl?
One of the most common ways for Fentanyl to get into the hands of individuals is through prescriptions from doctors.
Despite Fentanyl being a superbly potent opioid that has caused several overdose deaths, physicians and doctors continue to prescribe this drug inappropriately to patients who are not opioid-tolerant, meaning they are not accustomed to taking other opioids for chronic pain. It may seem sensible for the prescribing of a drug as potent and dangerous as Fentanyl to be closely controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); however, any doctor or physician can prescribe the drug. Multiple warnings and letters have been distributed to medical professionals to inform that only those with experience in handling patients with severe and chronic pain should ever prescribe Fentanyl, but a recent 2010 report published on US National Library of Medicine outlines how inappropriate prescriptions to opiate-naive individuals is continuing despite multiple warnings and alerts to the dangers.
Another way Fentanyl is getting on the streets, and into the hands of heroin and cocaine addicts is the illicit production of the drug in clandestine laboratories, mostly located in Mexico. This form of Fentanyl is commonly mixed in with heroin and cocaine, which often results in fatal overdoses of unsuspecting addicts who do not know this powerful drug is mixed in with what they think they are buying.
Regardless of how an individual gets his or her hands on Fentanyl, it packs a powerful punch in a short amount of time, speeding the development of dependence and addiction. Persons who use Fentanyl non-medically are at a significantly higher risk of overdose and death. All of the effects of Fentanyl are identical to those of other opioids and opiates, only much more intense, and they include:
- Shallow breathing
- Decreased heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Intense euphoria
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
- Droopy eyelids
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sense of wellbeing (analgesia)
In many cases of individuals who abuse Fentanyl, there is an additional danger in the fact that there may be other depressant drugs being abused at the same time. The most common drugs used in conjunction with Fentanyl are other opiods or opiates and benzodiazepines. Since both are depressant drugs with the common effect of decreased heart rate and blood pressure, the chances for respiratory failure are drastically increased.
Individuals suffering from Fentanyl addiction are more likely to have initially received the drug from a doctor for chronic pain, or from a street dealer who has mixed it in with heroin or cocaine. In rarer circumstances, individuals who have been prescribed Fentanyl for legitimate medical purposes may sell their medication to dealers or addicts for a profit.
Overcoming Fentanyl Addiction
Although Fentanyl is the most potent opioid used in modern medicine and has caused thousands of deaths in the United States, and worldwide, addiction can be treated. The first step to addressing and overcoming Fentanyl addiction is detoxification. Typically the hardest part of addiction recovery, detox from Fentanyl often takes a longer period to accomplish than most other drugs of addiction. This is mostly because of the strength of the medicine, but several factors may influence the amount of time it takes to completely detox from Fentanyl.
- How long the individual has been using Fentanyl
- The strengths, quantities, and frequency of Fentanyl use
- If the individual has been using other drugs with Fentanyl
- The individual’s tolerance and any other medical conditions that may complicate the detox process
Like other opioids and opiates, the withdrawal symptoms from Fentanyl are not life threatening but can be very severe and painful. The most common of these symptoms include the following:
- Increased anxiety
- Muscle pain and spasms
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold sweats
- High fever
- Intense cravings
- Abdominal pain
- Severe agitation
The typical manner in which a Fentanyl addict is withdrawn from the drug is to provide him or her with a dosage of a long-acting benzodiazepine or barbiturate to ease anxiety and promote sleep. The administration of these sedatives is considered a way for professionals to help “take the edge off”. The goal of detox is to get the drugs out of the system of the addict, but also try to keep him or her as calm and comfortable as possible within appropriate medical practices. Once the benzodiazepine or barbiturate has been administered, additional medications are given to manage diarrhea, abdominal pain, and high blood pressure. Over the course of several days, the dosage of the sedative is reduced as the intensity of withdrawal symptoms begins to lessen.
After the clinician and the addict can agree that symptoms are mild enough to completely withdraw from the sedative without having to experience severe insomnia and anxiety, the individual will be completely drug-free, and ready to move on to the treatment phase of recovery from Fentanyl addiction.
In many cases, however, this process can take significantly longer to accomplish because most addicts who survive Fentanyl addiction have an extraordinarily high tolerance to opioids and opiates that often spans for several years. The psychological withdrawal symptoms are those that the sedatives are intended to ease. However when an individual has been using opiates and opioids to the degree that most Fentanyl addicts have, the absence of the drugs in the brain can be devastating, and take an extended period to become manageable enough to withdraw from the sedative.
It is always important to be completely honest about all drug use and the nature of addiction and dependence before beginning a Fentanyl detox so the staff and clinicians can appropriately manage symptoms of withdrawal.
Rehabilitation For Fentanyl Addiction
Once detox has been completed, it is likely necessary to enter into some form of addiction treatment. Since detox alone does nothing to address any underlying causes or contributors to addiction or destructive behaviors, it is essential to engage in a recovery program. For some people, an outpatient program may be sufficient, while for others (especially heroin and cocaine addicts), an inpatient rehab program is more effective and appropriate. In a rehab program, whether inpatient or outpatient, the goal is to prevent relapse and the need for another detox from Fentanyl, or any other addictive drug.
Further, once an individual has been sober from Fentanyl and other drugs, the risk of fatal overdose during relapse is much more likely. This is because tolerance will begin to decrease as soon as the drugs are out of the system. The speed and degree to which this occurs depend on the individual and the length of time and severity of his or her addiction, but the process of decreased tolerance begins almost immediately after detox.
There are a plethora of options available to individuals who are seeking sobriety and recovery from Fentanyl addiction. Various modalities of treatment, spiritual tracks, and therapeutic methods can be tailored to fit the individual, based on his or her needs, preferences, and belief system. Despite all of the variety, some things about addiction treatment are standard and uniform, and they consist of the following:
- Individual therapy to discover and address underlying issues that may have contributed to addiction
- Group therapy to build friendship and fellowship for continued support along the road to recovery
- Courses and workshops to build awareness about addiction, and provide addicts with knowledge and empowerment to recognize dangerous people, places, and things that may be triggers for relapse
- Establishment of healthy diet and lifestyle choices that can be continued once treatment has been completed
- Aftercare programs to help addicts better acclimate to their home environment in a healthy and recovery-minded manner
Addiction treatment is an imperative piece of recovery from Fentanyl substance abuse and should be determined and designed on an individual basis. If you or someone you love is suffering from Fentanyl addiction, please call us now. One of our trained counselors is available now to speak with you about your situation, and how you can find relief from the chains of Fentanyl addiction. Detox is safe and comfortable, and treatment is available with an individualized and personal approach that will relate best to you, or your addicted loved one. Fentanyl addiction, like all addictions, is progressive and fatal if it is not treated, so please don’t wait and don’t suffer alone. Help is available, and it is just one phone call away. Please call now.