What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is the most prevalent synthetic opioid in the United States. The Belgian doctor Paul Janssen first synthetized Fentanyl in 1959 as an anaesthetic. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than Morphine or Heroin. Today, doctors prescribe fentanyl as a painkiller to patients who are suffering from very serious diseases, usually cancer. Although Fentanyl is legal as a prescription drug, there is a large market for illegally-manufactured Fentanyl and for even more potent Fentanyl analogs. Fentanyl is the cause of the recent surge of opioid-related deaths in the United States. At least half of the 47,600 fatal opioid overdoses which occurred in the United States in 2017 involved Fentanyl.
Fentanyl as a Prescription Drug
Fentanyl is highly addictive and potentially lethal. However, the drug can be an important part of a patient’s pain management regimen without causing a substance abuse disorder if the patient uses the drug responsibly with proper medical supervision. Under the Controlled Substance Act, the federal government classifies Fentanyl as a Schedule 2 drug, meaning that it has a legitimate medical purpose yet poses serious risks. Therefore, the United States government forbids anyone from using or possessing Fentanyl without a written prescription from a doctor.
The World Health Organization categorizes Fentanyl patches as an “essential medicine” for cancer patients. The following are some medications which contain Fentanyl.
- Actiq ®, a lozenge prescribed to relieve cancer pain in patients who are already taking substantial amounts of pain medication. Aside from the risks of addiction, Actiq can cause symptoms of drowsiness, dizziness, and stomach pain.
- Duragesic®, a patch applied to the skin which provides relief for severe pain, usually arising from cancer. Once removed after several days, the patch can provoke symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
- Abstral®, a dissolving tablet placed under the tongue to relieve severe cancer pain. Abstral carries risks of opioid withdrawal and dependence.
Other brand name Fentanyl-based medications include Subsys®, Sublimaze®, and Lazanda®. These medications are also designed to relieve cancer pain in patients who are already using pain medication.
Patients should always follow medical instructions from a doctor when using any Fentanyl-based medication. Such medications should always be kept away from children and they should only be taken to relieve pain which is chronic and severe, not occasional and mild.
Fentanyl as an Illegal Drug
Drug traffickers exploit the prevalence of Opioid addiction by selling Fentanyl which is illicitly-manufactured and sometimes disguised as legitimate medication. Law enforcement and medical practitioners who have been responding to overdoses on synthetic opioids in recent years have noted that traffickers are also combining the Fentanyl analog Sufentanil with illegal drugs such as Methamphetamine and Heroin to create more powerful and addictive products. Illegal Fentanyl is highly likely to cause a person to suffer a fatal overdose, especially when combined with other illegal substances. Beginning in 2016, the number of deaths arising from overdoses on synthetic opioids (mostly Fentanyl) began to surpass the number of deaths caused by non-synthetic opioids. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most illegal Fentanyl is manufactured in China and mailed to the United States. Traffickers in the United States can collect over $1.5 million in profits by selling one kilogram of illegal Chinese Fentanyl, an amount which carries the potential to kill 500,000 people. Fentanyl is so powerful that a dosage smaller than a penny can kill someone. Therefore, using Fentanyl outside of the boundaries of a prescription with medical supervision is extremely dangerous.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse
Since Fentanyl is so potent, it is tremendously addictive. Fentanyl causes addiction by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain which respond by releasing dopamine, an organic chemical which is responsible for sensations of pleasure and relaxation. Fentanyl can cause a person to experience an intense and euphoric “high,” but may also cause a person to become confused and drowsy and suffer difficulty with breathing. When someone abuses Fentanyl by using the drug too often, in exceedingly large doses, or illegally, they risk addiction as well as overdose, a life-threatening emergency. The symptoms of a Fentanyl overdose include comas and respiratory failure.
Overcoming Fentanyl Abuse
In some medical circumstances, Fentanyl may be appropriate for relieving the most extreme and chronic forms of pain, but Fentanyl is never completely safe because of its addictive power. If you or someone you know needs help with Fentanyl abuse, you should contact a dedicated treatment specialist today. Recovery is always possible with determination and support.