Fentanyl is not a new drug; it was created and implemented medically in the 1960s. Why is it that a drug can remain largely unknown for over 50 years before becoming a key contributor to an epidemic? The chances are that you, like most Americans, have heard of the opioid epidemic but have only heard about Fentanyl for the first time in the past few years (or haven’t heard of it at all.) There are many factors relating to America’s fentanyl crisis and the opioid epidemic; this article will educate you on everything you need to know.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” – Prince.
Many Americans had their first exposure to Fentanyl when hearing about the accidental death of “The artist formerly known as” Prince in 2016. Others may have first heard about Fentanyl as a contributing factor to the death of George Floyd, an occurrence that sparked worldwide protests against racism and police brutality.
Even after this exposure, you might still be asking…
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used as an anesthetic during surgery and one of the prescription drugs used for chronic pain management after surgery. The prescription opioid temporarily block pain signals in the brain while simultaneously increasing the brain’s dopamine production, inducing a feeling of relaxation and euphoria.
Medically fentanyl is prescribed in the forms of transdermal patches, lozenges, buccal tablets, injections, and nasal sprays, under the names:
While the medication is effective when prescribed by a doctor, the allure of relaxation and euphoria puts this drug at high risk for abuse and the path to addiction. Once a person turns to illegal substances, side effects and risks become a frightening reality.
Side Effects of Opioid Use
Side effects of opioids and fentanyl include:
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Increased blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Diarrhea and Stomach Cramps
- Difficulty urinating
- Brain Damage
“The Most Dangerous Illegal Drug in America”
Synthetic opioids are becoming more popular in the United States and it’s becoming a public health crisis. 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic caused many people with opioid use disorder to revert to drug abuse causing the opioid crisis in the United States to reach peak levels.
On the streets in the United States, illicit Fentanyl is most commonly sold in pill or powder form; drug users and drug dealers have embraced the illicit drug because it is an ideal cost-cutting substitute. Synthetic opioids are manufactured in labs, so they are much cheaper and easier to produce than heroin reportedly as much as 99% cheaper per dose. Since there is such a low production cost, many other illegal substances become Fentanyl laced, either knowingly or unknowingly,through cross-contamination.
The ease and price of illicit fentanyl production are not indicators of its strength or effectiveness. Fentanyl is a highly potent substance that measures 50 to 100 times more deadly than other opioids (50x stronger than heroin, 100x stronger than morphine.) Fentanyl deaths have been traced back to lethal doses as small as 2mg (equivalent to the size of 2 grains of salt); this level of potency puts its users at high risk for accidental overdose and substance use disorder.
Deaths from Fentanyl
In recent years, the opioid epidemic is booming and fentanyl-related overdoses have spiked in the US, becoming a significant public health crisis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Drug overdose statistics for 2018revealed some shocking information “Trace amounts of Fentanyl were detected in 80% of all drug overdose deaths.“Additionally, the number of opioid overdose deaths in 2020 skyrocketed to 81,000; that’s the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded! According to the CDC, “Synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in drug overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from 2019.” This drug overdose death toll and the increases in opioid-related deaths from Fentanyl overdoses fueling the opioid epidemic, becoming educated on the warning signs is the first step to fighting back against America’s Fentanyl crisis.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose:
- Extreme Fatigue / Fainting
- Severe Confusion
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Trouble Breathing
- Cardiac Arrest
What to do in the Event of a Fentanyl Overdose
Witnessing an overdose victim is a very traumatic and emotional situation, but now that you know the warning signs of opioid-related deaths, the next important piece of information to know is that it’s possible to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The opioid epidemic would not be such a public health crisis if this information were more commonly known!
First, and most importantly, when becoming aware that someone is overdosing you HAVE TO call 911. Sometimes people are hesitant to call because they’re afraid the police will get involved at that point. They might be afraid of getting criminal charges for being around drugs, maybe they were the fentanyl dealer, or maybe they took some of the drugs too… the fear of being arrested does keep people from getting help in a timely manner in many cases, and there is a very small window of time that you have before an overdose becomes fatal.
“Will I get in trouble if I call 911?”
One commonly unknown fact is that you will not get in trouble if you call 911 because someone is overdosing. Paramedics are only interested in helping people with medical emergencies, they are not interested in law enforcement. Additionally, there is legal protection in a place called the Good Samaritan Law; these drug laws protect anyone involved in a drug overdose situation from criminal charges. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will not charge the person who called 911, or the drug overdose victim, with possession.
“Is there a cure after someone takes a lethal dose?”
Another piece of information that isn’t common knowledge is that medication exists that can actually reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio) is an emergency medication that is designed for rapid opioid overdose reversal; it binds to opioid receptors to reverse and block the effects of Fentanyl and other opioids, quickly sobering up someone who is overdosing – even restoring respiration to a person who stopped breathing. This medication comes in many forms and who it’s being administered depends on the form.
Naloxone (Injectable) – The most effective form of the drug, but can only be obtained and administered by someone trained and certified to do so. This may be a doctor, paramedic, law enforcement, or any other first responder.
EVZIO (Auto-Injectable) – This medication can be prescribed by a doctor and can be administered by anybody. Evzio comes in the form of a quick release needle that is stabbed into the thigh of the person overdosing (like an Epi-Pen.)
Narcan (Nasal Spray) – This medication also is prescription only, and can be administered by anybody. It’s a nasal spray (like a common allergy spray) and gets administered while the person overdosing is laying on their back.
While Naloxone medication is effective and a literal lifesaver, there aren’t any versions of it that are available over the counter at this point. A doctor may prescribe Evzio, Narcan, or some other new version of the drug to a person whose behaviors put them at high risk of overdose, but you can’t run into a drugstore and get this medication in an emergency situation.
Stopping the Opioid Crisis at the Source
The best way to put an end to America’s fentanyl crisis is to take preventative action; helping people with substance use disorder get access to treatment before they find themselves in an emergency overdose situation. Many treatments exist for opioid use disorder, and the sooner you get help the easier it is to overcome.
If you or your loved one struggles with opioid use disorder, contact us and let us help you take your life back.
Detox, medication management, behavioral therapies, inpatient, and outpatient services; Pacific Sands Recovery Center offers many treatment options specifically for Fentanyl and opioid addictions. We understand your struggle, let us help.
When was the first time you heard about America’s Fentanyl Crisis? Leave us a comment down below and get the discussion started! Talking about it helps you and the community learn and grow.