The Fentanyl Crisis

By Beatriz Watson

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has become a major drug crisis in the United States. Commonly prescribed for pain management, there is growing misuse and abuse of prescription opioids and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

As the drug is highly dangerous to the human body, many cases related to fentanyl overdose and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl.

These substances have gotten into the hands of teenagers, increasing their abuse in the country. As fentanyl is now becoming a drug crisis in the country, there is an urgent need for the government and law enforcers to seal all loopholes that make the substance available through black markets.

Continue reading to learn more about fentanyl and how its widespread has now become a threat to not only American society but also global society.

What is Fentanyl?

Medication drugs are usually made with an intended purpose, to treat a particular ailment. However, if the drug is alternated for specific purposes, then it can have serious side effects on the body. Generally, pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approved for treating severe pain, at some point for advanced cancer pain.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), synthetic opioid is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. While the drug is prescribed in either the form of transdermal patches or lozenges, it can be diverted for misuse and abuse.

The underground-economy industry for hard drugs has devised other unscrupulous means to make the drug easily abused. It is usually mixed with heroin or cocaine as a combination product, with or without the user’s knowledge, to increase its euphoric effects.

Illegally made fentanyl drugs make users feel “high” faster than hard drugs like cocaine or heroin. This is what has increased the popularity of this substance in the U.S. and far and beyond. In other words, fentanyl can be very fast acting, and any ingestion of even a small quantity can cause an overdose.

Medical Uses

Fentanyl treats acute, severe pain caused by major trauma or surgery. Also, the drug is used to treat chronic pain caused by cancer in some people who are physically tolerant to other opioids. Tolerance occurs when a person requires a more-than-usual amount of a drug to get the desired effects.

The duration you must take fentanyl will depend on why it has been prescribed. For instance, fentanyl patches for cancer pain are approved for life-long use. The drug can also be used in acute pain for only a short period.

How Do People Use Fentanyl?

When prescribed for the proper purpose, fentanyl drug can be administered as a shot, patch, or as lozenges that are sucked like cough drops.

Though the increased illegal use of fentanyl made in the labs has been associated with the rising overdose cases in the U.S. Made in the lab as synthetic fentanyl, the drug is sold illegally in illegal markets as a powder or made into pills like other prescription opioids.

Only after the profit is realized from the illegal business, some drug dealers mix fentanyl with other substances such as heroin and cocaine. This trend has mostly been attributed to the fact that it only takes very little to produce a high with fentanyl than other drugs making it a cheaper option for users.

While most drug users pursue the high substance, they have little understanding of its risk, especially if they do not know the drug can contain cheap but dangerous additives. This is dangerous as the users can take opioids stronger than what their bodies are used to, leading to overdoes.

The Effects of Fentanyl on the Brain

Like any other drug, fentanyl can also significantly affect the brain. This drug works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are located in certain areas of the brain that play a vital role in controlling pain and emotions.

Continuous use of fentanyl makes the brain adapt to the substance, hampering the brain’s sensitivity to pain and emotions. This makes it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug.

When one becomes addicted, drug seeking, and use take over their lives. In short, they cannot live without the substance. The drug has become part of their lives; they must do whatever it takes to get the substance.

Here are some of the fentanyl’s effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Breathing problems
  • Unconsciousness
  • Sedation

Overdosing on Fentanyl

Like any other drugs or opioid substances, overdosing on fentanyl is a possibility. An overdose occurs when a substance leads to severe side effects and life-threatening symptoms. When you overdose on fentanyl, your breathing can slow or suddenly stop.

Slower breathing than normal means your body cannot get enough oxygen vital for body processes. This can decrease the amount of oxygen reaching your brain leading to a condition called hypoxia which can cause come and lead to permanent damage to the brain and, in extreme cases, even death.

How to Treat Fentanyl Overdose

For those affected by fentanyl overdose, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Though, it is important to note that drug dealers tend to mix the cheaper fentanyl with other drugs. This can make it difficult to know which drug is causing the overdose.

When given correctly, naloxone is a medicine that can effectively treat fentanyl overdose. The substance works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs. But since fentanyl is stronger than other opioid drugs like morphine, this can require multiple doses of naloxone.

If you suspect you or someone has overdosed on fentanyl, the best thing to do is seek immediate medical attention in the nearest health facility. You can as well call 911 for assistance.

Fentanyl Addiction

Some people might wonder if fentanyl can lead to overdose. The answer is yes. Just like other substances, fentanyl can be addictive because of its potency. When you take the drug as prescribed by your doctor, it can lead to dependence. Dependence on a drug is characterized by the growing desire to use a substance without considering its side effects.

You should be aware that suddenly stopping your fentanyl medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Though you can become dependent on a drug without being addicted, dependence can lead to addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms of fentanyl addiction include:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Severe cravings
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, making it hard for people to stop using the substance.

Behavioral therapies have also been effective in treating people with fentanyl addiction.

The Bottomline

Fentanyl misuse and abuse is becoming a major drug crisis in the U.S. and other countries globally. This has mostly been fueled by illegal black market trade. Drug dealers mix synthetic fentanyl with other substances to increase its euphoric effects.

With the aim to make profits out of this dangerous business, drug dealers do not consider the side effects the substance could have on a user. This calls for urgent of relevant bodies and law enforcement agencies to seal possible loopholes that have acted as enablers of the illegal trade.