Fentanyl abuse continues to be a massive problem in the US: synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, make up the highest proportion of drug-related overdose deaths, making it an extremely dangerous drug. A fatal overdose occurs with only a tiny amount of fentanyl. Drug dealers are increasingly using it as an additive to other opioids or different drugs because it is powerful and cheap.
There are many signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse. Fentanyl abuse can quickly slip into fentanyl addiction because the drug is highly potent and addictive. We will discuss the signs and symptoms to look out for, the drug's effects, and substance abuse treatment options to safely and effectively overcome drug addiction.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a type of medication used legally to treat severe pain and illegally abused to get high. It is a synthetic opioid pain medication that shares similarities with morphine and is classed as a Schedule II controlled substance. However, Fentanyl is much more potent and is actually 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous and takes only a tiny amount to cause a fatal overdose.
Fentanyl is classed as an opioid, a type of drug that works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids can either be derived naturally from the poppy plant or manufactured synthetically using the same chemical structure. Other opioids include:
Heroin and fentanyl are fast-acting opioid drugs that cause extreme pleasure and relaxation but can kill someone or get someone addicted in as little as a single dose.
Fentanyl has invaded the drug market in the US because it is cheaper and easier to get a hold of than heroin. Due to this, along with the drug's extreme potency, fentanyl is often added to heroin as a filler. It is also sometimes added to methamphetamine, cocaine, and Xanax. This is incredibly dangerous as taking a drug that has fentanyl included without your knowledge can lead to a fatal overdose.
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Fentanyl can be administered through the following methods:
- Patches on the skin
- Lozenges or 'lollipops'
- As an injectable form
- As a tablet
- As a spray
Physical, Mental & Behavioral Signs of Fentanyl Abuse
Since it causes euphoria and relaxation, fentanyl abuse is a considerable risk, so even those who have been medically prescribed the drug should be monitored to prevent substance abuse.
Substance use disorder is an umbrella term for those who abuse drugs or are addicted to drugs and can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. It is essential to be aware that substance use disorder is an illness in the same way that a physical ailment is classed as an illness. It is vital to treat mental health conditions the same way that physical health conditions are treated to break the stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse.
The DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) links opioid use disorder (of which fentanyl abuse is encompassed) with the following symptoms:
- Someone wants to stop or reduce their fentanyl intake but is unable to.
- Someone is taking more fentanyl than initially or for a more extended period than intended.
- Someone is experiencing cravings for fentanyl.
- Someone is spending a significant amount of their energy, money, and time acquiring fentanyl, abusing fentanyl, or recovering from fentanyl use.
- Home, work, or school life is damaged, and obligations are not met due to fentanyl abuse.
- Someone continues to abuse fentanyl despite its negative consequences.
- Someone can't stop abusing fentanyl despite worsening existing physical or mental conditions or creating new ones.
- Someone becomes tolerant of fentanyl. Drug tolerance is when your body grows accustomed to the drug and needs more and more of it to get the desired effects of fentanyl.
- Someone experiences withdrawal symptoms of fentanyl abuse once the drug is decreased or stopped entirely.
- Someone continues abusing fentanyl despite the dangerous situations that can accompany it.
- Someone starts to become isolated and distant from social events, work participation, or things they once enjoyed, among other things, to abuse fentanyl.
Due to the effects of fentanyl, it can be clear when someone is abusing the drug due to its effects. It can cause someone to have mood swings and seem confused and depressed. It can also be noticed in their physical appearance: constricted pupils, slowed breathing, poor coordination and balance, vomiting, drowsiness or seeming to fall asleep, pale skin, and scratching, to name a few.
Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose
As an opioid drug, fentanyl acts by binding to opioid receptors. Too much fentanyl affects the respiratory system by slowing down breathing. As a fast-acting opioid, fentanyl overdose can occur within seconds to minutes of taking the drug. Some signs and symptoms to be aware of that show that someone is overdosing on fentanyl include the following:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Someone's lips and fingernails turn blue
- Respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing)
- Losing consciousness
Some more signs and symptoms include:
- Cold/clammy skin
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Limp body
- Loss of consciousness or reduced consciousness
If someone is experiencing a fentanyl overdose, the drug Naloxone can reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose if it is immediately administered. It is essential to seek immediate medical help by calling 911 if you suspect someone is overdosing on fentanyl.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Once a tolerance to fentanyl has developed, it can be challenging to quit the drug due to the withdrawal symptoms experienced when you stop taking it. Some of the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can include:
- Flu-like symptoms such as tearing up, runny nose, chills
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle or joint pain or weakness
- Body hair standing up
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Dilated pupils
- Vomiting or nausea
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
The fentanyl withdrawal symptoms generally peak within the first few days and level off after around a week. Tapering off the drug slowly rather than quitting all of a sudden will help to keep opioid withdrawal symptoms at bay. Medication such as longer-acting opioids, methadone, or morphine can help during the taper process. Buprenorphine is also sometimes used in opioid withdrawal management.
Often the thought and experience of these withdrawals can be so intense if attempted without medical attention and advice that you may feel as if you are trapped in your addiction. However, you are not trapped. Know that fentanyl addiction treatment programs exist and effectively break your reliance on the drug.
As fentanyl is so addictive, it is recommended that someone undergoes treatment by enrolling in an inpatient detox program. This program will provide a medical detox and round-the-clock care, and medical advice to help with the withdrawal symptoms. A detox can also be completed on an outpatient basis.
Related: Fentanyl Detox
After detox, rehab is recommended, as is continued aftercare to treat fentanyl use disorder. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or other talk therapies can help to overcome psychological addiction. Addiction treatment can also comprise support groups, lifestyle changes, and establishing a healthy routine.
If you are in the grips of fentanyl addiction, know that you are not alone, no matter how lost and out of control you feel. It is possible to recover from your addiction and lead a healthy life free from fentanyl. With the proper support and help, your substance abuse can be overcome, and although it won't be easy, getting clean will be one of life's most rewarding journeys.