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What Is Fentanyl and Why Is It Dangerous?

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According to Anne Milgram, Adminstrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is the single deadliest drug the U.S. has ever encountered. But what is fentanyl, and what makes it so dangerous? Read on to learn more about this dangerous substance. 

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl was initially produced as a pharmaceutical-grade synthetic opioid. Its potency is 50 times more intense than heroin and 100 times more intense than morphine. When used in a controlled environment for medical purposes, it can be beneficial for extremely painful conditions and for bringing relief during the latest stages of cancer.

But another kind of fentanyl is the illegally manufactured kind. This can be even more potent than its pharmaceutical counterpart. Even a single dose of illicitly made fentanyl can lead to overdose, coma, and death. 

What Does Fentanyl Do to the Brain and Body?

Fentanyl affects the brain and body, similar to other opioids. When the synthetic opioid reaches the brain, it interacts with naturally occurring opioid receptors and binds to them. This causes a reduction in pain signals sent from nerve endings and the central nervous system. In addition, it forces an increased release of dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters. Dopamine is associated with pleasure, and elevated levels make us feel good and euphoric. Elevated levels of serotonin cause an increase in calmness and relaxation. 

As you can imagine, it can be highly intoxicating when one experiences a high on fentanyl. The brain remembers these feelings and sensations as positive behaviors. Due to the potency of both pharmaceutical and illicit fentanyl, it just takes using it once to become hooked on the drug. Furthermore, cravings for and tolerance to the drug start within just a few days of use. 

Why Is It Dangerous?

The danger of fentanyl is directly related to its potency. It only takes a very small dose to achieve the same effects as using other opioids, either as a prescription medication or illicitly. Sadly, many people are unaware of its potency and the high risk of overdose. As reported by the Washington Post, “it only takes about two milligrams of fentanyl to overdose.” Other reasons why this synthetic opioid is dangerous include the following:

  • Illicit fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit substances, such as MDMA, cocaine, meth, and heroin, to make them stronger. Unfortunately, when street drugs are combined with other substances, it often results in a deadly combination. 
  • People using illicit drugs have no way to test for fentanyl, let alone the amount used in the substance.
  • Street fentanyl can contain other dangerous chemicals harmful to humans. On March 16, 2022, The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs agreed to increase regulations and controls on three of the chemicals that illegal drug manufacturers were using to make street fentanyl. As a result of this change, many illegal drug manufacturers have switched to other dangerous chemicals without any regard for their effects on humans. 
  • As the body builds tolerance to fentanyl, higher dosages are required to achieve the desired effects. Unfortunately, as dosage amounts increase, it makes overdose and death more likely. 

Why Is It Difficult to Stop Using?

One of the primary reasons it is difficult to stop using fentanyl caused by the changes in the brain and body. For example, this synthetic opioid causes the body to stop producing natural opioids. So, when the effects of the drug begin to wear off, the body will go into immediate withdrawal since it has become dependent on the substance to function.

Another reason people find it difficult to stop using is because of the adverse withdrawal symptoms they experience. The extent, intensity, and severity of withdrawal symptoms are directly related to how long one has been using, the amount they are using, and the frequency of use. 

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Extreme flu-like symptoms
  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Perceived intense pain
  • Body aches
  • Dehydration
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Hallucination
  • Anxiety
  • Shaking

How to Safely Detox from Fentanyl

People who attempt to stop using on their own often find it impossible. As soon as the more intense and severe withdrawal symptoms appear, they relapse. They would rather continue using fentanyl than go through the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. Sadly, by continuing to use fentanyl, they continue to increase their risk of accidental overdose. 

When someone wants help with their fentanyl use disorder, medically supervised detox is the safest and most effective way to stop using this drug. Medical detox ensures the person has access to medical professionals, addiction specialists, and medication treatment to reduce the severity and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. 

In addition, supervised detox provides a supportive and caring environment to help one take their first steps to recovery. There are also no outside distractions to prevent relapse, and it helps one achieve a successful detox. 

Fentanyl Detox and Addiction Treatment in Orange County, CA

When you are ready to get help for your fentanyl use disorder, start your detox at IMS and JCAHO-accredited Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA. Our treatment center provides a safe, caring, and supportive environment for recovery. Start your detox today by contacting us.


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