Substance Abuse

Fentanyl – Not Your Average Heroin

March 15, 2019

Fentanyl – Not Your Average Heroin

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but 50-to-100 times more potent. Like morphine, it is a medicine typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery. However, fentanyl is also made illegally and distributed as a street drug. Street names for illegal fentanyl include ‘Apache,’ ‘China Girl,’ ‘China White,’ ‘Dance Fever,’ ‘Friend,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Jackpot,’ ‘Murder 8,’ and ‘Tango & Cash.’ Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now the most common drugs connected to overdose deaths in the United States and are among the biggest drivers of the opioid crisis currently plaguing the nation.

The History of Fentanyl

Clandestine manufacture of non-pharmaceutical fentanyl commenced in 2005-2007 and has been traced by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to a single lab in Toluca, Mexico. Widespread distribution and abuse of fentanyl began taking hold in 2013, with supplies emanating from Mexico, China, and to a lesser extent, Russia.

Illicit fentanyl is produced as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, placed in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids. A fatal overdose can be caused by as little as two milligrams of fentanyl – equal in mass to a few grains of salt or sugar. Inadvertently inhaling just a trace amount of fentanyl can provoke immediate overdose death. This has created a challenge for law enforcement officials who must garb themselves in hazmat suits when conducting raids and seizures. Police have been forced to curtail the use of drug-sniffing K-9s because of overdoses among these dogs in their course of identifying fentanyl.

What You Need to Know

Today, fentanyl is one of the leading contributors to the nationwide opioid crisis. Deaths resulting from fentanyl now exceed those from heroin overdoses. The US Center for Disease Control noted in their December 2018 report a decline in life expectancy for the first time since World War I, attributing this shocking development directly to the surge in the availability of fentanyl and related overdose deaths.

Drug dealers are increasingly mixing fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This is because it takes very little to produce a high with fentanyl, making it an inexpensive ingredient that can boost dealers’ profit margins. Lacing fentanyl into drugs is especially risky when users are not aware of fentanyl’s presence and, consequently, they consume stronger opioids than their bodies are accustomed to, thus elevating the risk of overdose.

Like heroin and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. Because of its potency, fentanyl is highly addictive. Effects of fentanyl include extreme happiness, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, and problems breathing.

Exacerbating its perils, fentanyl users can be subject to ‘delayed secondary wave overdoses.’ For example, overdose victims who have been successfully revived by Naloxone/NARCAN® may overdose again two-to-three hours later as the fentanyl recirculates within the body.

People addicted to fentanyl but who stop using it can have severe withdrawal symptoms that begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken. These symptoms include muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and uncontrollable leg movements. These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are the reason many people find it so difficult to stop taking fentanyl.

Fentanyl Use is Rising

The near-term outlook is grave, with fentanyl quickly supplanting heroin as an inexpensive, easy to obtain, and more potent alternative. Additionally, fentanyl offers high-profit margins to distributors and is easy to smuggle, given the potency of only very small quantities.

While increased awareness and availability of Naloxone/NARCAN® may have started to stem the tide of fatal overdoses, illicit use of fentanyl continues to rise.

Signs of Hope

  • Increased awareness of this severe health epidemic: The opioid crisis has been extensively chronicled in the media during recent years, with President Trump declaring it a public health emergency in October 2017. As such, there exists widespread acknowledgement of the fentanyl
  • Added focus on interdicting supplies of fentanyl at US borders: Politicians and law enforcement officials are actively engaged in programs to stem the inflow of fentanyl at US ports and along the Mexican border.
  • Expansion of Naloxone availability: Naloxone (sold under the tradename NARCAN®) is a medicine that can treat a fentanyl overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs. Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to dispense Naloxone without a prescription. Additionally, many first responders – such as law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians – are being equipped with Naloxone to help save overdose victims.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Like other opioid addictions, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combined with behavioral health therapy has been shown to be effective in treating patients with a fentanyl Medications such as Buprenorphine (Suboxone®) work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as fentanyl. This reduces cravings, blunts withdrawal symptoms, and paves the way to sustained, long-term recovery. Combining MAT with behavioral health therapy for addiction to opioids like fentanyl can help people modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use, increase healthy life skills, and make them stick with their medication.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, you don’t have to face it alone. Victory Recovery Partners is here to help. We specialize in the use of medication-assisted treatment for addiction using FDA-approved medications such as Buprenorphine (Suboxone®) and Vivitrol®. We’re here to provide you with the convenient, high-quality medical care you need and deserve. Visit our website or contact us at 631-696-HELP (4357) to begin your journey to recovery today.