Table of Contents
- Too Many Addicted to Fentanyl
- What Does Fentanyl Look Like?
- What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?
- What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?
- Why is Fentanyl So Addictive?
- Fentanyl Street Names
- How Fentanyl is Used and Abused
- Symptoms and Physical Consequences of Fentanyl
- Abuse Overdose and Fatality Statistics
- Detox and Treatment
- There is Help for Those Addicted to Fentanyl
Fentanyl was first synthesized (or invented) by Paul Janssen, a world-renowned Belgian physician and founder of pharmaceutical giant Janssen Pharmaceutica, in 1960. It was approved for medical use in the United States and quickly took its place as one of the leading analgesics (painkillers) and anesthetics. With the development of fentanyl patches by California based ALZA Corporation in the late 80s, its use grew even greater and it earned a place on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medicines. It is now the most widely used synthetic opioid in clinical practice in the world, with millions addicted to Fentanyl.
50 to 100 times more potent than its naturally occurring opioid counterparts like morphine, Fentanyl is used for severe pain cases such as advanced cancer and post-op patients, as well as moderate to severe chronic pain. It is also very prevalent in general anesthesia cocktails, mixed with a sedative and muscle relaxants.
Too Many Addicted to Fentanyl
Tragically, fentanyl began to be diverted to the arena of recreational drugs. Both legally produced fentanyl and illicitly manufactured versions have flooded the streets and claimed many lives in its wake. It can be lethal in even tiny doses for people who are not opioid tolerant and has replaced heroin as the chief opiate killer in the USA. Fentanyl is currently among the 3 most commonly abused drugs.
Lack of Unique Identifying Qualities
A major issue with Fentanyl is its lack of unique identifying qualities.
What Does Fentanyl Look Like?
Fentanyl is easily disguised in powders or pills and has no fixed appearance.
What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?
Fentanyl’s taste is non-existent, it does not taste like anything.
What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?
Fentanyl has no smell.
Because of its anonymous properties, many people are unaware of how dangerous fentanyl can be. However, even a tiny amount can be fatal.
The sinister dealer practice to increase profit margins by lacing heroin and cocaine with fentanyl has become all too common. A substance abuser will ingest it while thinking he is using cocaine or heroin. This recipe for tragedy has greatly contributed to skyrocketing overdose rates.
Why is Fentanyl So Addictive?
Like all opioids, fentanyl binds to opioid receptors. These receptors reside in the areas of the brain that control pain and emotion, and block pain messages. Concurrently it increases the release of dopamine, which is the chemical that motivates us to engage in activities we find pleasurable and rewarding. This produces the exhilaration and euphoria that causes addiction.
So how long does it take to get addicted to fentanyl? As the body builds up tolerance for the increased dopamine levels it needs higher dosages to feel that same high. Its shelf life in the body is very short, inducing the body to constantly demand to be fed with the substance as it cycles out of the body.
Fentanyl Street Names
Fentanyl is often called by many other names. The list of alternative names includes but is not limited to:
- China Girl
- China Town
- China White
- Dance Fever
- Great Bear
- Tango & Cash
How Fentanyl is Used and Abused
There are myriad forms of exposure to fentanyl, and it can be added to almost anything. It can be injected, inhaled, ingested orally in pill form, or absorbed by the skin via transdermal patches. It is also available as powder, fentanyl lollipops (transmucosal lozenges) or spiked onto blotter paper. It’s even been found in eye drop and nasal spray solutions. There is some controversy over whether or not one can overdose from touching fentanyl – to learn the real facts, read our online resource on the topic.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been identified in counterfeit pills, imitating drugs such as oxycodone or other prescription opioids. As mentioned above it is sometimes combined with illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine and then ingested unwittingly by a drug abuser. Fentanyl laced weed is another way users can ingest fentanyl without realizing.
Each individual’s signs of fentanyl use will be different and determined by variables such as their size, weight, and general state of health. New users are susceptible to fatal overdose from taking even tiny doses the equivalent of a few grains of sugar.
Its addictive qualities are intense. Firstly, as the body builds up tolerance with repeated use, larger doses will be demanded to achieve the high the drug abuser is seeking. Additionally its half-life is very rapid compared to other drugs. Within hours the high is gone, the addict once again feels emptiness and his body begins to press for yet another dose.
Symptoms and Physical Consequences of Fentanyl
There are many signs of fentanyl use. There are both mental and physical consequences. It is wise to be on the lookout for these Fentanyl addiction symptoms if a loved one or someone you know is struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
- Mood swings
- Bad decision-making processes
- Neglect of social and work responsibilities
- Slurred speech
- Memory impairment
- Concentration and attention difficulty
- Depression and anxiety
- Disorientation and confusion
- Suicidal ideation
- Dilated and Constricted pupils
- Changed sleep patterns (insomnia etc.)
- Heart rate decrease
- Muscle rigidity
- Dry mouth
- Constricted throat
Signs of overdose include very slow and shallow breathing and unresponsiveness. Fentanyl abuse leads to hypoxia, heart and respiratory failure, and in many cases, eventual death.
Abuse Overdose and Fatality Statistics
Law enforcement research indicates a significant rise in illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Confiscations of illegally produced fentanyl increased seven-fold in the space of two years, per the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS). This and other similar data suggest that the rising synthetic opioid crisis is largely due to the influx of illicit non-pharmaceutical versions as opposed to its prescribed iterations. The affordable fentanyl price on the street assists in the recent increase of fentanyl abuse and overdose occurrences.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) , a federal agency charged with researching addiction, reported that in 2016 synthetic opioids – primarily illegal fentanyl – had surpassed prescription opioids as the number one drug killer in the United States. It was involved in close to 50% of opioid-related deaths (19,413), representing a 36% increase from 2010. A significant percentage of overdose deaths in every drug class, including naturally occurring opioids such as heroin and stimulants such as cocaine and meth, were linked to being combined with fentanyl or its analogs. A recently released RAND Corporation report  pegged fentanyl and its analogs as involved in over 31,000 deaths in 2018, which is two thirds of all opioid overdose fatalities and nearly half of the overall drug toll of more than 70,000. In a space of less than six years – 2013 to 2018 – the synthetic opioid mortality rate has increased tenfold.
Upon encountering an opioid overdose, Naloxone should be administered immediately. Naloxone (widely known as Narcan due to its original brand name) is a non-selective opioid antagonist. It binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, competing with the illicit substance and temporarily blocking its effects. Quickly restoring slowed or stopped breathing to normal levels, it is the difference between life and death for many overdose victims. It is not subject to abuse or addiction and is the best emergency response for an occurring overdose.
Rapidly spiking overdose rates have encouraged legislators both at the state and federal levels to adopt policies aimed at increasing accessibility to Naloxone. Third-party prescriptions, first responder authorizations and allowing prescriptions for caregivers or family members of a SUD sufferer are all among measures taken in many states to combat opioid overdose in general, and fentanyl in particular.
Naloxone has been available as an injectable since the 1970s. In 2014 an autoinjector named Evzio was introduced on the market and in 2015 a nasal spray called Narcan arrived. Both products have made administering the drug easier and accessible even to untrained professionals.
It is critical to note that due to the potency of fentanyl, many times a single dose is not enough. The overdose victim must be carefully monitored in case another dose needs to be added. Furthermore, Naloxone can precipitate withdrawal and their attendant symptoms. Emergency services and professional medical help is required even if it seems that the overdose has been successfully reversed.
Detox and Treatment
Entering a detox facility is the first step for an addict’s fentanyl recovery.
Withdrawal can cause physical symptoms such as:
- Altered heartbeat
- Heightened stress levels.
In some cases, hallucinations and extreme paranoia have been exhibited by recovering users. When done incorrectly, detox can be fatal and it is imperative that it be overseen by competent medical professionals.
There is Help for Those Addicted to Fentanyl
If you are addicted to Fentanyl or any other substance, Avenues Recovery, pioneers in addiction rehabilitation, offers medical detox for Fentanyl withdrawal under 24 hour professional care.
Once the residual toxins from drug use have left the system the addict must enter fentanyl addiction treatment. It is vital to investigate your options and find an expert rehab provider. Most health plans today cover treatment for drug rehabilitation. Do as much research as you can to identify the facility that works with you and for you. The industry is rife with opportunistic greed merchants who see your loved one as a chance to make a quick buck. Keep your eyes wide open and ask questions. Be wary of those offering a quick fix and a two-week vacation. The fentanyl user’s life is at stake. Contact Avenues Recovery for support and professional guidance. You deserve a life in recovery and a future that’s addiction-free!
To learn more about addiction, read our commonly asked addiction questions and answers resource.