June 17, 2022 Opioid

What is Fentanyl? Fact and Fiction on the Synthetic Opioid

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid to treat patients experiencing severe pain after surgery, those who suffer chronic pain, and according to the CDC, advanced cancer pain. It is similar to the opiate morphine but 100 times more potent. Fentanyl is also commonly made and used illegally in the United States. In this opioid’s prescription form, it is known by names like Duragesic, Actiq, and Sublimaze.

What is an Opioid?

graphic representation of differences between illicit and prescription fentanyl what is fentanyl

Opioids are defined as drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. These potent drugs work in the brain to produce effects such as pain relief and can be prescribed medication such as a painkiller or they can be illegal street drugs often seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl are made in labs using the same basic chemical structure.

How does Fentanyl affect the body?

When a patient is prescribed Fentanyl by a healthcare provider for relief or anesthetic, it can be administered as a shot, transdermal patches, or lozenges like cough drops. Illegal fentanyl is made in labs by scientists and linked to reported overdoses. This illicit drug is sold illegally in power form, placed onto blotter paper, put into small bottles like eye droppers or nasal spray, and can also be made into counterfeit pills that replicate prescription opioids.

Once ingested, Fentanyl binds onto the opioid receptors inside the brain that affect pain and emotions. Taking this synthetic opioid too frequently can quickly cause your brain to build a tolerance and diminish the drug’s effectiveness making it harder to enjoy anything in life without the compound in your system.

More side effects of Fentanyl on the body and some on mental health include:

  • relaxation and pain relief
  • sedation
  • euphoria
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • respiratory depression
  • constipation
  • trouble breathing
  • confusion
  • pupillary constriction
  • urinary retention

The Facts About Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a Schedule II substance that should only be used under the supervision of a licensed medical professional so that the user can be monitored for any misuse or abuse of the drug. Illicit fentanyl is mostly made in foreign labs and brought into the United States to be sold.

This synthetic opioid is often mixed in with other illegal drugs in order to increase its potency but with no oversight, the dose of Fentanyl used is often lethal. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine and can be also made into pills that replicate legal opioids or benzodiazepines. These drugs are referred to as Fentanyl laced drugs and are very dangerous, especially when an individual does not know it is laced.

Synthetic opioids are leading drivers of overdose deaths in the US and the rates continue to rise every year. The CDC reports that more than 36,000 people died in 2019 from opioid-related deaths through overdose.

Common Myths

It’s important to clear fact from fiction when discussing illegal Fentanyl since there are many harmful myths that circulate. It is a common belief that simply inhaling or touching the substance can get you high or cause you to overdose. While it is a significantly powerful drug, it cannot be easily absorbed through the skin.

Another common myth is that all Fentanyl is the same, both pharmaceutical fentanyl and illegal. An FDA-approved opioid prescribed by a doctor is given in safe doses and used for severe pain management typically after a surgery. Illicit Fentanyl is mixed with other drugs at lethal doses and sold to people who are unaware they are consuming Fentanyl. This lack of regulation and oversight increases the chances of physical dependency on the synthetic opioid and overdose.

Fentanyl Overdose

An overdose on opioid analgesics and other drug formulations occurs when the drug begins producing adverse effects as well as life-threatening symptoms such as slowed or stopped breathing and loss of consciousness. A Fentanyl overdose will present quite a few signs that are important to pay attention to and seek treatment for. Common signs of a Fentanyl overdose may include:

  • Stiffening of the body or other seizure-like behavior
  • Confusion or strange behavior
  • Person is unresponsive
  • Mouth is foaming
  • Lips turning blue
  • Losing consciousness or falling asleep
  • Body is limp
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Gurgling sounds when breathing
  • Small pupils

Finding Treatment

It is best to find treatment for opioid addiction as soon as possible to avoid the risk of overdose in the future, especially as the American opioid crisis continues to take lives and concern authorities like SAMHSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Unfortunately, this isn’t an addiction a person can kick overnight. In fact, according to American Addiction Centers, treatment for opioid dependency will usually take at least a year.

Opioid-tolerant patients can try using Fentanyl patches which are designed to treat severe pain. This period is typically when recovering patients sign up for medical maintenance programs like those that use methadone and buprenorphine.

Treatment centers for Fentanyl addiction are a safe way to successfully overcome the habit. These detox centers can give individuals access to recourses they otherwise wouldn’t have that can ease the process. Treatment may include dual diagnosis treatment, medication-assisted treatment, as well as relapse prevention services. Recovering an opioid addiction is entirely possible with proper medical treatment to treat withdrawal symptoms.

Naloxone for Fentanyl Overdose

Naloxone (also called by brand name “Narcan”) rapidly reverses symptoms of an opioid overdose. Beyond administering life-saving interventions when necessary and as instructed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—dial 9-11 in the event of an overdose and stay with the person after administering the naloxone for help to arrive.

fentanyl treatment path illustration from detox to outpatient or aftercare what is fentanyl