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Fentanyl Addiction : Understanding Facts About the Deadliest Drug in America

American flag made with syringes, symbolizing Fentanyl dangers in America

An alarming new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared fentanyl the deadliest drug in America. This report relates the latest evidence that the drug is the actual cause of most fatal overdoses in the U.S. The CDC report represents a troubling shift in the substance abuse landscape and highlights the need for effective drug treatment programs and mental health care for those struggling with opioid addiction. In addition, medical treatment for fentanyl withdrawal can provide an effective start point for a full recovery.

The CDC reports that fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013. In 2019, more than 36,000 people died in the USA from synthetic opioid overdoses. Unfortunately, the future is looking even more tragic. The most recent provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning the drug is put together in a laboratory. As an opioid drug, it is in the same class of drugs as morphine, heroin, oxycodone, and many prescription painkillers. Physicians sometimes prescribe it as a painkiller following surgery or for other medical conditions. Although this medication positively affects pain, its powerful side effect can be tragic in the wrong hands or wrong doses.

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Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the US for people under 55 years of age. Although these fatal overdoses are typically the result of illicit off-market drugs, the need for them often stands from legitimate emotional or physical pain. Street fentanyl is usually sold as a powder, mixed with heroin, tablets, or spiked on blotter paper.

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How Fentanyl Became the Deadliest Drug in America

The fentanyl found in the streets is primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico. The drug is being sold across the country in the illegal drug market. Fentanyl is found in most drugs nowadays. It is being mixed in with several illicit drugs to increase the potency. This deadly drug can be found as powders, nasal sprays, and legitimate prescription pills, and these counterfeit drugs often contain lethal doses of fentanyl. Additionally, because of the drug’s potency and low cost, dealers have been mixing fentanyl with several drugs, including non-opioids.

A dose of as little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s size and tolerance. In addition, DEA is finding counterfeit pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams; this means drugs sold in the street might contain twice the lethal dose of fentanyl per pill. In other words, a kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.

Solving the Fentanyl Crisis

In recent years, fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary cause of countless overdose deaths. But, unfortunately, because of the strength of the drugs sold in the streets, there is no safe amount to use. A deadly dose of fentanyl looks like five to seven grains of salt. While the risk of overdose is highest among those who inject the drug, those who snort, smoke, and ingesting can also be fatal.  

Some of the most common overdoses symptoms:  

  • Intense tiredness or sleepiness
  • Feeling dizziness or faintness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty walking, talking, or thinking
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails
  • Slow heart rate
  • Pinpoint pupils

In addition to the above, fentanyl may cause other severe symptoms that could warrant medical attention. If you suspect someone is presently experiencing an overdose, please call 911 immediately. Do NOT WAIT to seek help.

Fentanyl Risks

In 2020 the DEA reported that 26% of pills tested for fentanyl contained a lethal dose. These numbers show that every time you use any street drugs containing fentanyl, there is s one in four chance you might overdose. Even when you know that the drug you are buying contains fentanyl, you have no way of knowing if it’s a lethal dose.

According to the CDC, fentanyl has been the primary cause of increased overdose fatalities in the United States. An increase of 38.4 percent during the 12 months ending May 2020. It is essential to know that unless a legitimate pharmacy dispenses a drug, you can’t possibly know what it is, what it contains, and what risk you are taking. 

Fentanyl use has become much more dangerous in recent years because of the increasing appearance of “fentanyl analogues.”

What does Fentanyl look like? 

The pharmaceutical products are easy to identify and currently available in:

  • Oral transmucosal lozenges, also as fentanyl lollipops or Actiq® 
  • Effervescent buccal tablets, Fentora®
  • Sublingual tablets, Abstral®
  • Sublingual sprays, Subsys®
  • Nasal sprays, Lazanda®
  • Transdermal patches, Duragesic® and injectable formulations

Although clandestine substances sold in the streets are often sold in powder form or tablets like fake oxycodone, Fentanyl is also currently found in cocaine, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, and even psychedelics.

 

What is the Effect on the Body?

This powerful drug binds to opioid receptors throughout the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier to bind to receptors in the brain, too. These receptors control pain and emotions. When this binding occurs, the brain is hit with a flood of the chemical dopamine. This chemical reaction leads to a feeling of euphoria and deep relaxation. This “high” is the reason that people begin taking fentanyl. In many cases, they use fentanyl to numb physical or emotional pain.

Over time, the receptors in the brain become used to the presence of fentanyl or other opioids. As a result, it takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same high — a condition known as tolerance. Additionally, the body becomes used to the presence of fentanyl and begins to compensate. That means that once the drug is reduced, the body reacts with uncomfortable symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms are another sign that the body is dependent on fentanyl.

In addition to opioid dependence, many people develop fentanyl addiction. Addiction occurs when the stimulation of opioid receptors causes the brain to rewire itself. As a result, the structure and function of the brain’s reward circuits change, causing the person to crave fentanyl. Fentanyl cravings, continuous attempts to seek the drug or recover from its use, and continuing to use fentanyl despite negative consequences are all signs of fentanyl addiction. Importantly, fentanyl addiction refers to behavioral and psychological symptoms, while fentanyl dependence refers to a physiological need for the drug.

 

Understanding the Effects of Fentanyl

Fentanyl danger represented in pills shaped as a venemous snake with a mortar and pestle

Fentanyl is a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it lowers the central nervous system’s activity. That is why it causes breathing and heart rate to slow. The depressant effect of the drug is part of what makes it so dangerous. If a person takes too much, their breathing could stop entirely. During an overdose, that is precisely what happens. As a result, breathing slows dramatically or stops, and the heart rate slows down, too.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Fentanyl withdrawal can produce intense physiological symptoms in its users who attempt to stop abruptly. A withdrawal syndrome occurs when a physically dependent person in an opioid drug is suddenly deprived of that substance. Regardless of how destructive addiction can become, it is almost impossible to over-emphasize the challenges of a fentanyl withdrawal.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal:  

  •     Sweating
  •     Diarrhea
  •     Intense cravings
  •     Nausea with or without vomiting
  •     Sleeplessness
  •     Muscle aches and cramps
  •     Stomach cramping
  •     Yawning
  •     Runny nose
  •     Mood changes such as depression, anxiety, and agitation
  •     High blood pressure

It is also possible to experience rapid heart rate, hallucinations, or even seizures when withdrawing from Fentanyl. The length and strength of the withdrawal symptoms depend on multiple factors, including:

  • Duration of use
  • Amount of daily use
  • Emotional status
  • Health status
  • Age of user
  • The method in which the drug was used

The symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal usually start 5 to 6 hours from the last use and peak around the 48 hours mark. However, symptoms can last 5 to 7 days, and not many people can complete full detox without healthcare professionals’ assistance.

How Much Fentanyl Can Cause an Overdose?

In recent years, fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary cause of countless overdose deaths. But, unfortunately, because of the strength of the drugs sold in the streets, there is no safe amount to use. A deadly dose of fentanyl looks like five to seven grains of salt. While the risk of overdose is highest among those who inject the drug, those who snort, smoke, and ingesting can also be fatal.  

Some of the most common overdoses symptoms:  

  • Intense tiredness or sleepiness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty walking, talking or thinking
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails
  • Slow heart rate
  • Pinpoint pupils

In addition to the above, fentanyl may cause other severe symptoms that could warrant medical attention. If you suspect someone is presently experiencing an overdose, please call 911 immediately. Do NOT WAIT to seek help.

 

What is the Best Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction?

Waismann Method® has long been a leader in rapid fentanyl detox and medical opioid detoxification. The goal is to provide opioid users with a safe, supportive, and successful way to come off opioid drugs. After rapid detox, patients receive inpatient recovery care to allow time and adequate support throughout this healing phase. For many people suffering from addiction, using the drug is an attempt to numb the pain associated with depression, trauma, anxiety, or other emotional problems.

Aftercare provides an opportunity to learn new coping strategies and address the root causes of addiction. In addition, the combination of detoxification and supportive behavioral treatment in aftercare has better outcomes than either approach alone.

 

How to Stop Using Fentanyl Safely?

A woman in fetal position due to fentanyl withdrawal 
Fentanyl may be the deadliest drug in America
, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to make a concerted effort to help people suffering the horrible effects of drug addiction. With adequate outreach and increased access for medical detoxification, followed by professional mental health support and guidance, we can help those struggling with opioid addiction achieve much happier and healthier lives.

All-Inclusive Fentanyl Medical Detox in 7 to 10 Days

We are proud to offer one of the most successful fentanyl detox treatments in the nation. Call us today for individual treatment options.
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Sources

Reviewed by Clare Waismann, Registered Addiction Specialist (RAS), Substance Use Disorder Certified Counselor (SUDCC), founder of Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence and Domus Retreat®. Clare Waismann is an authority and expert on opioid dependence, opioid use disorder, substance dependence, detoxification treatments, detox recovery, and other topics covered on RapidDetox.com.

 

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