Fentanyl Abuse

Considered one of the most powerful pain medications available on the market, Fentanyl abuse is a cause for serious concern in the United States.  Illicit use of the drug has increased dramatically over the last five years, with black market groups producing at least 12 new non-pharmaceutical versions of the drug in clandestine laboratory operations.  Additionally, legitimate prescriptions are being diverted, transferred, or otherwise made available for misuse.  Fentanyl abuse is a grave and alarming issue considering that the drug is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and heroin.  Deaths from overdose of Fentanyl are increasing in numbers, as few people understand how potent the drug really is.  If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of Fentanyl abuse, it’s vital to understand the consequences of the problem and to know how to seek proper medical treatment.

 Fentanyl Abuse

In clinical settings, Fentanyl is the most widely used synthetic opioid in the country.  This powerful analgesic is primarily used to treat chronic pain associated with surgery, bone fractures, musculoskeletal issues, severe arthritis, and pain from debilitating diseases such as cancer and HIV.  Additionally, Fentanyl can be used as an anesthetic for operations and for dental procedures.  The drug can be administered to patients intravenously, orally, or as a suppository or nasal spray.  In some cases, Fentanyl can be prescribed in the form of a lollipop for absorption via the mucus membranes in the mouth.

In addition to the methods listed above, the most common method of administering Fentanyl is by use of a transdermal patch.  The patch works by slowly releasing Fentanyl- an opiate- into the bloodstream over a period of 48-72 hours.  The drug makes its way to the body’s fat cells, where it will trickle into the blood over time.  The patch is generally used in chronic pain management, and as a result the risk of tolerance, dependency, and Fentanyl abuse is high.

Fentanyl works by binding with pain receptors that target opiates in the brain and central nervous system.  The drug is designed solely to provide relief from pain, but one of its side effects is that it produces a euphoric state in many individuals, thus making the drug a target for abuse.  Fentanyl is extraordinarily powerful and quick-acting, but only works for short periods of time.  This means that Fentanyl abuse is likely to occur, as users will repeatedly seek that same effect again and again.

Because Fentanyl is so strong, those that use the drug without a prior tolerance to opiates may place themselves in grave danger.  The drug depresses the respiratory and pulmonary systems, and in cases where too much is taken or the drug is taken by someone without tolerance, the result can be fatal.  Overdoses caused by Fentanyl abuse are on the rise, with many abusers slipping into comas, ceasing to breathe, and dying.

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

Individuals who are in the midst of Fentanyl abuse may exhibit many of the signs associated with side effects from the drug.  These include: diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, sweating, depression, constipation, anxiety, confusion, dizziness, and exhaustion.  Efforts to help a person suffering from addiction or dependency to Fentanyl may be hampered by the fact that the drug sometimes causes an altered state of mind that leads to aggression.

Other signs of Fentanyl abuse may mimic that of addiction or dependency on other drugs.  People who are misusing Fentanyl may become isolated, exhibit or discuss feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, fear, paranoia, severe depression, and other symptoms and signs.  In general, there are three primary behaviors that an addicted person will exhibit:

  1. *Loss of control over the drug as demonstrated by repeated confusion over dosages and frequency, overdosing, not taking enough by mistake or through tolerance, hoarding the drug, and other signs that the person has lost control over the substance.
  2. *Continuation of Fentanyl abuse despite serious complications and consequences brought about by the deterioration of relationships, financial difficulties, trouble with the law, and physical and mental health issues.
  3. *Obsession over the drug- constantly thinking about the drug, talking about it, and being overly preoccupied with obtaining it, using it, and recovering from it.

However, these signs may also be indicated by someone who is not addicted to or abusing the drug.  Additionally, individuals who are not being treated properly for their pain or who are being under-treated may exhibit some of these same behaviors in their efforts to self-medicate or improve pain management.  Therefore, careful observation of  and discussion with an individual who is suspected of Fentanyl abuse is crucial to determining if the person is merely suffering from tolerance, physical dependence, psychological dependence, or full-blown addiction.  Unfortunately, Fentanyl abuse and misuse almost always results in true addiction.

Dangers of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl abuse is especially dangerous for 2 reasons:

  1. Once ingested or injected, the absorption effects of the drug are virtually irreversible, making even prompt treatment for overdoses unlikely to produce effective results.
  2.  Fentanyl is often sold as heroin, even though it is far more potent.  This can easily lead to miscalculations of dosing that can result in death.  Additionally, Fentanyl sold on the black market is likely to have been manufactured using unscrupulous methods where even the person making or selling the drug has very little idea how potent the drug might be.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Treatment for Fentanyl abuse is widely available at clinics and treatment centers around the country.  In fact, some methods even allow a person to undergo withdrawal symptoms while under sedation.  This is important, as many people who have taken Fentanyl both legitimately and illegally are fearful to stop taking it because of the significant and debilitating withdrawal symptoms.

Fentanyl abuse treatment includes professional help to detox from the drug, to manage withdrawal, and to provide therapy.  Therapy is usually conducted at a group, individual, or family level.  Including the family and loved ones of a person suffering through an addiction or dependency to any drug is critical to achieve success and to prevent relapses.

It should be understood that many cases of Fentanyl abuse have begun as a result of a medically necessary chronic pain management program.  Therefore, health care professionals know that this can happen to anyone from any stage or status in life.  The key is to be properly educated on the drug and its effects in an effort to prevent or minimize abuse, and to treat Fentanyl abuse quickly when present.