Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was produced in the 1950s. By the 1960s, pharmaceutical fentanyl was on the American market and being used by doctors around the country. Fentanyl is prescribed to treat cancer patients who are experiencing breakthrough pain. These sudden bouts of severe pain occur despite receiving pain medications on a continuous basis. By binding to opioid receptors throughout the body, fentanyl is very effective at alleviating pain. It comes in three common forms:
- Transdermal patches
- Lozenges and lollipops
- Intravenous injection
Like many prescription medications, fentanyl has become a commonly abused pharmaceutical and illegally manufactured drug. People abuse this narcotic analgesic because of the euphoria and relaxation it produces.
How Did Fentanyl End up on the Street?
During the 1960s, fentanyl was exclusively found in medical practices in the United States. By 2013, fentanyl was circulating on the streets and triggering the third wave of overdose deaths in the opioid crisis. Today, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are the leading cause of overdose deaths; about 150 people die every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that over 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019. Most recent cases have been attributed to illegally manufactured fentanyl.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), pharmaceutical fentanyl ended up in circulation through “theft, fraudulent prescriptions, and illicit distribution by patients, physicians, and pharmacists.” Illicit fentanyl is also manufactured in foreign labs in China and Mexico, smuggled into the U.S., and sold on the illegal drug market. The drug is sold as a powder and nasal spray and put into pills to make it look like a prescription drug.
How Strong Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is similar to heroin and morphine in the pleasurable sensations it creates in the body. However, fentanyl distinctly stands out from these substances and many others for two main reasons: its strength in tiny amounts and its ability to reach the brain quickly.
According to the CDC, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Moreover, it only takes two milligrams of fentanyl to cause a fatal overdose if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. To get an idea of just how little two milligrams is, imagine a packet of sweetener you’d find at a restaurant or cafe. That packet contains approximately 1,000 milligrams of sweetener — a lot more than two milligrams!
What Else Makes Fentanyl a Drug of Concern?
This opioid has been a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S. since around 2013. The strength of fentanyl alone is not the only reason it is so easy to overdose on. Fentanyl is a white, odorless, and tasteless substance. The unsuspecting buyer of heroin or illicit prescription medications cannot determine if their drugs have been laced with fentanyl. Moreover, the dealer might not be taking great caution to ensure each dose is the same strength. They may even just be a middle man that received the drug already laced and not know for sure.
Taking fentanyl while using other opioids or drugs like Xanax or Valium increases a person’s likelihood of overdose. There are risks even for those who have prescription fentanyl in their possession. For example, if you skip a dose or more, you may risk overdosing when you take the next dose because your tolerance has been reduced. If you sell your medication to another person, they could overdose because two people may require different dosages.
What to Do if You Suspect an Overdose
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between an overdose and nonfatal intoxication. If you think a loved one might be overdosing but are not completely sure, take the following actions immediately. You could save their life.
- Call 911 first and immediately
- Administer naloxone (if available)
- Try to keep the person awake and breathing
- Lay the person on their side to prevent choking
- Stay with the person until emergency assistance arrives
Find Opioid Treatment Today
An addiction to opioids can lead to many problems, including addiction and even fatal overdose. Fentanyl is a very strong drug that has resulted in thousands of tragic deaths, often of unsuspecting buyers of heroin and other drugs.
Whatever you or a loved one is facing right now, understand that many others are in the same position. Some people use opioids to escape the stress of life and the constant troubles they face. There are more effective and healthier ways to deal with your problems. You can learn to become strong and resilient through addiction treatment.
Fentanyl is a potent and addictive opioid pain reliever that has made its way to the streets. This drug is a significant contributor to America’s opioid crisis, causing tens of thousands of overdoses a year. Getting effective treatment for opioid use disorder is possible at Oceanfront Recovery. We are a fully licensed detox and treatment center located in Laguna Beach, California that provides individualized treatment to men and women. Our programs maintain a small patient-to-staff ratio so that our clients get the attention and care they need. Our clinicians also have years of experience and professional training. At Oceanfront Recovery, you can begin to do the deep work necessary to uproot your addictive thoughts and behaviors and begin to develop skills to deal with life’s many stresses. We have various program options for anyone seeking help. Call our office today at (877) 279-1777 to learn more about how we can help you change your story.