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What is Fentanyl?

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It was approved by the FDA to treat chronic or severe pain, usually used after surgery or for advanced cancer pains. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. This drug is very addictive. Fentanyl can be made illegally making it even more dangerous. In 2017, synthetic opioids, primarily illegally- made fentanyl, passed prescribed opioids as the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in the US.

Fentanyl is a very dangerous drug on its own. Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl, (IMF), is on the rise. It is impossible to know how potent the drug is when it is made illegally. This illicitly manufactured fentanyl is being added to pressed pills and mixed in with heroin and cocaine. In most cases, fatal overdoses have increased expediently because the addict does not even know they have ingested the drug. A very small amount of this potent drug can cause a fatal overdose. Drug dealers cutting other drugs with fentanyl has made it so much more difficult for first responders to save lives. An addict may have no idea that they are overdosing on fentanyl. First responders are armed with the drug Naloxone (name brand Narcan). Naloxone is a medication called an ‘opioid antagonist’ used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.

Because of the opioid epidemic, our country’s laws and medical guidelines have made access to prescription opioids much more difficult— taking steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, decreased access has prompted many people suffering from substance use disorder or addiction to turn to heroin. This has increased exposure to fentanyl- creating a fentanyl epidemic. Increased trafficking of the drug and increased use are both fueling the spike in fentanyl deaths. For drug dealers, fentanyl is easier to produce than some other opioids. Unlike the poppies needed for heroin, which can be spoiled by the weather or a bad harvest, fentanyl’s ingredients are easily supplied; it’s a synthetic combination of chemicals, often produced in China and packaged in Mexico, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and because fentanyl can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, smaller amounts translate to bigger profits.

Fentanyl is an opioid like heroin and prescription painkillers. It binds to the brain’s opioid receptors and floods the brain with dopamine. However, fentanyl doesn’t just flood the brain with dopamine- it sets off a tsunami. The high is more intense and the havoc it wreaks is much more devastating. Withdrawal from fentanyl has the same symptoms as heroin or prescription painkillers. The symptoms include flu-like symptoms, abnormally rapid heartbeat, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, nausea, profuse sweating, agitation, and intense cravings for the drug. A detox is the safest place to treat fentanyl withdrawal symptoms. Rehab is the safest place to be when trying to treat a fentanyl addiction. Because of the danger fentanyl poses- make the right decision and seek help. Recovery specialists are trained to help an addict get to the safest place.

Access to this drug is growing making it more and more dangerous to everyone. This is truly another wave of the opioid epidemic. Our country needs more education and training to combat this drug. Overall drug overdose death rates have increased by 21.5 percent. In 2017 alone there were more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths- many due to fentanyl. This is the sharpest increase among deaths related to fentanyl and it is on the rise.

This epidemic is spreading quickly. If you or anyone you know is struggling with any addiction, not just an opioid addiction, seek help. All drugs are being laced with fentanyl.


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