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Everything You Need to Know About Fentanyl Addiction

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a severe and complex condition that grows increasingly prevalent every year. Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some opioids are made from the plant directly, and others, like Fentanyl, are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure (semi-synthetic or synthetic).

10 Minutes Read | Published Sep 07 2023 | Updated May 17 2024 Expert Verified
David Levin
Reviewed by
David Levin
Reviewed by

As a result of the rapid expansion of opioid use disorder over the past few years, overdose fatalities and incidents of misuse have reached epidemic proportions.

Fentanyl addiction, a significant contributor to the opioid crisis, has caused profound distress for families and claimed the lives of numerous individuals.

In this article, we’ll explore side effects, consequences, and treatment options regarding fentanyl addiction.

What is Fentanyl? And How Does it Work?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but a hundred times more potent.

It’s a prescription medicine used to treat severe pain, usually after surgery. It’s also frequently used in cancer patients with chronic pain, especially when other painkillers do not control their pain.

Fentanyl works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors regulate pain while also providing emotions of pleasure and well-being. A chain of chemical reactions set off by fentanyl binding to these receptors results in profound pain alleviation and exhilaration.

Fentanyl is available in shots, tablets, and patches. Made illegally, it is available as a powder or liquid, incorporated into nasal sprays and eye droppers, or formed into pills resembling other prescription opioids. This bootstraped version is the leading cause of increased death and overdoses of Fentanyl.

Fentanyl use, as with any medication, can cause side effects such as:

  • Drowsiness

  •  Nausea

  • Confusion  

  • Constipation

  • Sedation

  • Problems breathing

  • Unconsciousness

How Serious is The Fentanyl Problem?

Illegally produced fentanyl is easy to find on the black market. A very common problem is that Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, and this makes people more likely to become addicted and overdose by mistake.

The fentanyl problem needs to be dealt with in a number of different ways. First, the demand for opioids needs to go down through education, general awareness, and other pain management options. Second, people who have drug use disorders need more therapy and counseling that is accompanied by medication.

Enhancing prescription opioid monitoring can also reduce criminal diversion. Prescription medication monitoring programs and tighter controls can help identify and manage overprescribing and misuse.

Law enforcement, especially at borders, must be strengthened to intercept illicit fentanyl trafficking. Improving border control can stop the supply chain from bringing narcotics into communities. Stopping fentanyl manufacture and distribution requires coordinated law enforcement efforts to target underground laboratories and dismantle trafficking networks.

Prevention, treatment, monitoring, and enforcement are needed to solve the fentanyl problem. Only cross-sector collaboration can reduce the devastating effects of fentanyl on individuals, families, and society.

Signs, Symptoms, and Facts of Fentanyl Overdose

Because of its strength, even a tiny amount of Fentanyl can result in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, and to put in perspective, it would be the equivalent of having an airline jet crash every day.

During the period between 2020 and 2021, there was an increase of 38.1% in overdose deaths involving opioids, and synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured Fentanyl, rose to 55.6%.

Even when prescribed by a physician, there’s a risk of overdosing. However, the greater risk is that when taken illegally, the unknown fentanyl concentrations in these items make it very hard to determine a safe dosage.

The risk of overdose is substantially increased when Fentanyl is taken with benzodiazepines, alcohol, or other opioids.

Older adults of both sexes and those with a history of substance abuse, particularly opioid usage, are also at a higher risk of overdose.

Therefore, recognizing life-threatening signs is crucial and can save your or a loved one’s life. Some things to look for are:

  • Small, constricted, "pinpoint pupils"

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Choking or gurgling signs

  • Slow or shallow breathing

  • Vomiting 

  • Limp body

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Blue or purple fingernails, lips, or skin.

An overdose of Fentanyl or other opioids is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone else may be overdosing on Fentanyl, you must call 911 immediately.

Can Fentanyl Cause Addiction? How Do I Recognize It?

The CDC estimates that for every four people receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting, at least one person struggles with an opioid addiction. Because of its high potency, Fentanyl can be addictive. Even when taken as prescribed by a doctor, Fentanyl can cause tolerance, which means you need to keep increasing the dose to reach the same effect.

With continued use, you can also experience dependence, which means that if you stop taking the medication, withdrawal symptoms show up, such as muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, uncontrollable leg movements, and severe cravings.

Drug dependence can often result in addiction, and Fentanyl is no exception. To determine if you are addicted to Fentanyl, a medical professional will assess your current health and substance abuse history. You will be diagnosed with an Opioid Use Disorder as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition, if you meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Using more opioids than you intended to.

  • Using opioids for longer than you intended.

  • Spending a great amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of Fentanyl or other opioids.

  • Having cravings to use Fentanyl or other opioids.

  • An inability to complete duties at work, school, or home due to opioid use.

  • Continuing to use Fentanyl or other opioids even if it negatively impacts your relationships.

  • Giving up things you previously enjoyed due to opioid use.

  • Frequently using Fentanyl or other opioids in physically dangerous situations.

  • Continuing to use opioids despite physical or mental problems you know are caused by them.

  • Developing tolerance to opioids.

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping the use of Fentanyl or other opioids 

 Addiction is a multifaceted condition influenced by numerous factors, and not all individuals who utilize Fentanyl will progress to developing one. If you have a history of substance abuse, higher dose usage, prolonged use, co-occurring disorders, or exposure to drug use in the family or community, you’re at a greater risk of developing an addiction.

 Other Long-term effects of Fentanyl Misuse

The biggest concern with fentanyl use is developing dependence and addiction, but it’s important to state that there are other long-term effects, such as:

  • Falls and fractures, particularly in the elderly population.

  • Breathing problems during sleep.

  • Chronic constipation, which can cause bowel obstruction.

  • Hormonal and reproductive issues, like impotence, infertility, and osteoporosis.

  • Heart attack.

  • Depression, anxiety.

Treatment Options for Fentanyl Addiction

The cornerstone treatment for fentanyl addiction is an evidence-based, effective combination of medicine and behavioral therapies, the same as for other opioid use disorders, which has been shown to improve patient survival, retention in treatment, and decrease illicit opioid use.

Detox

The initial stage in treating opioid use disorder (OUD) is typically undergoing a detoxification process in which your body is cleansed from the drug and withdrawal symptoms are controlled. To make sure you're safe and comfortable during this difficult phase of detoxification, it should be done under medical supervision.

Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD)

Three medications—buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone—have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid addiction. All three of these medications normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of Fentanyl, help manage withdrawal, and reduce cravings.

Buprenorphine stands out among these because it can be used on a long-term basis, thus helping to maintain recovery and avoid relapse.

Behavioral Therapies

Several well-researched behavioral therapies can be used to help you with fentanyl addiction, including but not limited to:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used approach for identifying and changing problematic beliefs and behaviors related to drug use.
  • Contingency management can offer rewards for abstaining from Fentanyl.
  • Group and family therapy can help establish a support network while addressing underlying difficulties.

Rehab Programs

Inpatient rehab programs, where you’re monitored 24/7, involve living in the treatment facility. If you have a severe opioid use disorder, co-occurring medical or health problems, or if you have polysubstance abuse, this might be the right fit for you.

Outpatient programs offer flexibility, given that you can live at home while attending scheduled therapy sessions. It’s a great option for less severe cases of fentanyl addiction if you're transitioning from an inpatient program or if you must continue with daily obligations.

To determine which is the best option for you, an assessment by an addiction specialist is necessary.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a non-judgmental and safe environment where you can share your feelings and struggles with substance abuse, learn from one another’s stories, get sponsorship, and hold each other accountable.

How Long Does It Last? Is It Expensive?

The length of treatment for opioid use disorders like fentanyl addiction is variable but usually long.

No fixed duration exists. Treatment duration may vary based on an individual's specific requirements, the severity of the disorder, and the treatment program in which they engage.

Regarding prices, several factors influence the cost of fentanyl addiction treatment, including the type of treatment, how long it lasts, and the type of center.

Inpatient rehab is typically more expensive than outpatient programs because it provides round-the-clock care, accommodation, food, and supplemental services.

The expenses may also vary according to the location of a program, services included, and the individual health insurance coverage. Many insurance plans will pay for opioid use disorders. Make sure to contact your insurance provider to check what exactly is covered by your plan.

Final Thoughts…

Fentanyl addiction is a major problem that affects people all around the world and has caused devastating consequences in different places, becoming a real public health problem. This synthetic opioid, with its extremely high potency, has contributed to the disastrous opioid epidemic.

The risks and addiction potential of Fentanyl must be understood by everyone. It is imperative to understand and spread the word about Fentanyl risks and to see this drug as a potential “pharmacological weapon.” It is also essential that more regulations are set to prevent the rise of Fentanyl prescriptions.

Fentanyl and other opioids can be helpful. However, it does not mean they must be the first choice for treating any type of pain symptoms.

Resources

bullet NIDA
"Fentanyl"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"U.S. Opioid Epidemic: Impact on Public Health and Review of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs)"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet US Customs and Border Protection
"CBP: America’s Front Line Against Fentanyl"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
"Fentanyl facts"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet Cleveland Clinic
"DMS-5"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet The Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders
"A review of potential adverse effects of long-term opioid therapy: a practitioner’s guide."
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
"Medication-assisted treatment"
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
bullet Narcotics Anonymous World Services
"A Resource In Your Community."
Retrieved on May 17, 2024
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