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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 fentanyl is the actual cause of most fatal overdoses. The CDC report not just represents a troubling shift in the substance abuse landscape, but it also and highlights the need for effective drug treatment programs and mental health care for those struggling with opioid addiction.

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 has a positive result in controlling pain, its powerful side effect can be tragic in the wrong hands or wrong doses.
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 National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC, tracks rates of drug overdose and other substance use behaviors. They recently released a report investigating the drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths from 2011 to 2016. Opioids have long topped the list, with oxycodone ranking first in 2011 and heroin from 2012 through 2015. Now, however, fentanyl has risen to the top of the overdose list. This new result is what makes it the deadliest drug in America.

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Equally shocking is the overall rate of overdose deaths. From 2011 to 2016, the age-adjusted rate of deaths due to heroin more than tripled. Meanwhile, the number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths doubled every year from 2013 to 2016. The skyrocketing prices of fentanyl deaths and the declining life expectancy in a country as wealthy as the USA do not match other countries with the same financial power.

The report also showed that many people do not just have one drug in their system. For example, 4,600 people who died of an overdose had both fentanyl (a central nervous system depressant, or “downer”) and cocaine (a central nervous system stimulant, or “upper”) in their system at once. These numbers suggest that many people continue to use multiple drugs, requiring a comprehensive approach to opioid addiction treatment.

Fentanyl Risks

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. 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 fentanyl 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. 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. Breathing slows dramatically or stops, and the heart rate slows down, too.

Synthetic Opioids

All opioids are CNS depressants, so what makes fentanyl so particularly deadly? The answer lies in its potency. Potency refers to how strongly a drug binds to receptors and stimulates them. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. That means that a tiny dose of fentanyl can have a substantial, possibly deadly effect.

Synthetic drugs are also dangerous because users are unaware of what the ingredients are. Street drugs come from secret laboratories in China and other countries. Labs have unqualified workers mixing these drugs, with no control of quantity or potency. These unknown substances illegally cross the borders into our streets and our kid’s hands.

The quality and potency of black-market drugs vary widely, and so as their fatal effects. Some fentanyl contains contaminants that make it deadly. Other times, fentanyl is mixed in drugs like heroin or Xanax to produce faster and more potent results. If the drug user is unaware of this, they may accidentally take too much of the drug. These new potent mixtures sold in the streets are what is fueling much of the fentanyl overdose crisis.

Fentanyl Rapid Detox and Addiction Treatment

Now that fentanyl has become the deadliest drug in America, it is time to take action. Public health officials have sounded the alarm that we need a multifaceted approach to control fatal overdose rates. But what are these effective measures? How can we immediately reverse this crisis?

  •  We need to protect our borders better and stop the influx of fentanyl into the country.
  •  Provide medications that can reverse an opioid overdose to all emergency personnel regardless of the county’s ability to pay.
  •  Create a cost-to-cost campaign, reaching all social outlets to educate the public on drugs, their physiological, emotional, and social effects.
  • Make our young adults leaders of drug education within their communities.
  •  Have accessible and effective and complete medical detox for those already struggling with dependence.
  • Improve mental health care in the US.
  • Invest our resources and efforts into neuroscience instead of “more drug replacement” or archaic and failed drug treatment programs.

Rapid Fentanyl Detox

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 with fentanyl 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 fact, the combination of detoxification and supportive behavioral treatment in aftercare has better outcomes than either approach alone.

The Future of the Opioid Crisis

Depression and anxiety concept of woman in fetal position on the sofa with gloomy colors.

Despite these staggering numbers, some studies suggest that 2017 could prove to be much worse. In states such as Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, fentanyl has been responsible for over 50% of overdose deaths. Experts agree that there is no single solution but any immediate actions that need to be taken simultaneously.
Fentanyl may be the deadliest drug in America, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to take 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.

Individualized All-Inclusive Waismann Detox™ in 5, 7, or 10 Days.

We are proud to offer the most recognized and best rapid detox center in the USA for nearly 20 years. Call us today for individual drug treatment options.



Reviewed by Clare Waismann, CATC, Founder of Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence


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