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What Is Fentanyl?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration consistently battles the trafficking of illicit drugs coming into the country. In recent years, the fight against opioids has been testing the limits of regulatory actions. The opioid epidemic is extraordinarily difficult to contain because the overlap between prescription medications and street drugs complicates how these substances are distributed for public consumption. The potential for abuse and public harm is grave whether drugs are obtained through legal or illicit means.

Fentanyl has taken its place among popular opioids partly because it is a synthetic drug that is produced quickly in a laboratory, unlike heroin which requires that opium poppies be grown to maturity before processing begins. The fight against fentanyl is a monumental task because this synthetic opioid is mixed with other drugs creating toxic concoctions. For individuals who use fentanyl to get high, this drug is abundantly available, cheaply and easily purchased, highly addictive, and deadly. Deaths have risen 55.6 % (mainly from illegal manufacturing) and are now a primary cause of drug overdoses. As with many illicit drugs on the black market, buyers rarely know what they are getting, which raises the stakes of use to dangerously high proportions.

What Is Fentanyl?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration consistently battles the trafficking of illicit drugs coming into the country. In recent years, the fight against opioids has been testing the limits of regulatory actions. The opioid epidemic is extraordinarily difficult to contain because the overlap between prescription medications and street drugs complicates how these substances are distributed for public consumption. The potential for abuse and public harm is grave whether drugs are obtained through legal or illicit means.

Fentanyl has taken its place among popular opioids partly because it is a synthetic drug that is produced quickly in a laboratory, unlike heroin which requires that opium poppies be grown to maturity before processing begins. The fight against fentanyl is a monumental task because this synthetic opioid is mixed with other drugs creating toxic concoctions. For individuals who use fentanyl to get high, this drug is abundantly available, cheaply and easily purchased, highly addictive, and deadly. Deaths have risen 55.6 % (mainly from illegal manufacturing) and are now a primary cause of drug overdoses. As with many illicit drugs on the black market, buyers rarely know what they are getting, which raises the stakes of use to dangerously high proportions.

Where Does Fentanyl Come From?

China is a major producer of fentanyl that is reaching the United States. Unfortunately, other countries are not subject to the regulations that govern drug manufacturing and distribution that U.S. products must undergo. China produces a range of fentanyl products it sells in various forms:

  • Raw fentanyl
  • Analogs that are fentanyl based
  • Counterfeit fentanyl drugs

There is a significant market for pseudo-prescription drugs sold online because people can purchase them cheaper and without a doctor’s prescription. These drugs are marketed as safe for consumption, but no strict regulatory body is involved in overseeing the production process or what amounts or types of drugs are included in the pills.

Moreover, China sells its fentanyl precursors to Mexico, which are used by drug traffickers in innumerable combinations and sold on the black market. Drug cartels traffic products across the Mexico border into the U.S., where there is an ever-increasing demand for low-cost, high-impact drugs. Fentanyl is also successfully shipped through the U. S. Postal Service because it is not easily detected. The issue is so serious that the Department of Homeland Security considers the illegal sale of fentanyl a priority concern for national security and citizen well-being.

What’s Its History?

Fentanyl, like many drugs, was created for important legal uses as a painkiller. A Belgian chemist, Dr. Paul Janssen, developed the breakthrough drug in 1960, which is 100 times more powerful than morphine. While the drug was widely used for intravenous pain management throughout Europe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was slow to approve its availability in the states. Finally, in 1968, the U.S. began using fentanyl regularly in specific surgical procedures. In the late 1970s, there were incidents of drug abuse developing, but nothing like what was to come when the patent expired in 1981 and sales of fentanyl boomed.

What Happened in the 1990s?

The 1990s had significant advancements for many pain medications because delivery methods were changing radically. For individuals with chronic pain and serious illness, patches, sublingual tablets, lozenges, and sprays made it easier to consume necessary pain medications. Over the years, these fentanyl medications flourished:

  • Duragesic: a transdermal patch
  • Sublimaze: an injection given intravenously or intramuscularly
  • Actiq: a transmucosal lollipop
  • Subsys: a buccal or sublingual spray
  • Abstral: a fast-dissolving, sublingual tablet
  • Lazanda: a nasal spray

With these newfound advances in drug-delivery options, the potential for misuse or abuse skyrocketed. Steadily, these medications were prescribed for conditions outside their intended purposes. By 2006, 80% of people using Actiq lollipops (initially developed for cancer patients) didn’t have cancer. Around this time, the use of illicit forms of fentanyl increased, and deaths from these illegal drugs were on the rise.

What’s Changed Since 2016?

The fentanyl crisis has been nothing less than explosive in recent years. The increase in production and street sales has been the catalyst for another wave of illicit fentanyl use. As with many high-profile drugs, an analog of fentanyl has appeared on the scene: carfentanil.

This drug is 100 times the potency of fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Handling the drug is dangerous and ingesting a minuscule amount is potentially lethal. The most concerning aspect of fentanyl ingestion is that it is often mixed with other highly potent drugs. The lack of controls over these mixtures can lead to an instantaneous overdose crisis or fatal outcome.

Why Has Fentanyl Become a Popular Drug?

People who battle addiction frequently search for the next level of substance use that gives them a greater high than previously experienced. This can lead to new substance use or use in larger quantities. However, drug habits are costly and become harder to maintain as consumption levels continually rise.

Thus, finding cheaper and more potent forms of drugs is a priority. Most of these substances are highly addictive, perpetuating the use and abuse cycle. Street drugs laced with fentanyl are powerful, cheap, and easy to obtain, which has made them a go-to source for people wanting to get high.

It is also much more challenging to get prescription pain medications in the wake of the opioid epidemic. Patients who could get prescription pain relievers for years now need to access drugs through sources other than their doctors. People struggling for a fix are less concerned about the potential consequences of counterfeit medications or illicit drugs than getting access to substances to maintain their habits.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

Fentanyl is typically a nondescript white powder or granules that look a lot like other drugs. It is impossible to tell from cocaine or other similar-looking substances if used in powder form. This makes it extremely dangerous when cut with other drugs. You may not realize the potency of what you are ingesting or may not know the drug is laced with fentanyl. The inability to distinguish it from other substances is a serious issue for users.

In some instances of illegal manufacturing, fentanyl may look tan, off-white, or brown. However, color is not a practical visual determinant because fentanyl is also found in pill and liquid forms. Chemical testing is the only reliable way to tell if fentanyl is present.

What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?

While some users claim that fentanyl has a sweet flavor that distinguishes it from the bitterness of heroin, there is no evidence to suggest the drug has a clear and identifiable taste or smell. Users should not rely on anecdotal information to know whether the drug is present. Most likely, taste differences are relative to drugs mixed into various concoctions.

What Does It Feel Like To Take Fentanyl?

Individuals are attracted to fentanyl due to the powerful effects the drug produces. The drug is typically snorted, injected or smoked in its illicit forms. Most users take it for the euphoria, relaxation and happiness the short-term high brings.

The effects occur quickly, as it passes through the blood-brain barrier faster than other drugs. Fentanyl affects the reactions of the opioid receptors in the brain and alters perceptions of pain. It prompts a dopamine response, and this neurotransmitter elicits pleasurable feelings that the brain and body register as a reward. Fentanyl’s strong reaction and reward sequence make the substance highly addictive.

What Is the Overall Impact of the Drug on the Body? 

Fentanyl is similar to other opioid analgesics in that it works on opioid receptors that control your emotions and pain. Under medical supervision, fentanyl can aid many conditions where pain disrupts a person’s well-being.

However, abuse of the drug impairs normal brain-receptor functions. The brain loses sensitivity over time and only feels pleasure when the drug excites. As time passes, it takes more and more stimulation to get a desired high. Aside from fleeting euphoric feelings, these are ways the body reacts to fentanyl use:

  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Pupillary constriction

Mostly, these are the mildest reactions the body experiences. The drug is unpredictable because it works on individual body chemistry, given the amount ingested and toleration.

Are There Serious Side Effects?

Situations get out of control fast when using illicit drugs are laced with fentanyl. The drug is frequently mixed with cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to increase the potency. Initial mild reactions can indicate something is seriously wrong when a person’s breathing becomes slow and shallow or stops. Hypoxia is a harmful side effect of a fentanyl overdose. Too little or no oxygen getting to the brain often leads to brain injury, coma or death. A person may suffer severe complications that permanently damage memory, speech and vision.

Brain death is possible depending on how long the brain remains deprived of oxygen. A combination of drugs and fentanyl can lead to death in several different ways, including cardiac arrest and seizures. Getting emergency medical assistance as soon as possible if an overdose is suspected is crucial.

What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Abuse?

Sometimes signs of drug use can be difficult to spot depending on a person’s usual behaviors. These are signs related to drug abuse that may help determine if a person is having issues with addiction:

  • Small pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Behavior changes
  • Consistent doctor visits (to obtain prescriptions)
  • Drug cravings (the constant need to medicate)
  • Financial problems (increased spending on a drug habit which may include borrowing or stealing)

Addiction is usually identified by a confluence of factors where multiple areas of life are out of control at the same time. Encouraging immediate treatment is essential when opioids are involved because of the probability of a bad outcome.

What Are Withdrawals Like?

When stopping or reducing opioid use, you experience a period of withdrawal. Depending on your habit, getting help with this process is essential. You may have serious medical issues coming off fentanyl because of its effects on the body. Tapering off helps reduce the severity of symptoms, but you may require other medications to ease the withdrawal processes. These are some of the side effects of withdrawing from opioids:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Mood disorders (including depression)
  • Fatigue
  • Body pain and muscle cramps
  • Sweating and chills and flu-like symptoms
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Body tremors and muscle twitching

When you begin withdrawal, you may experience other serious side effects that need medical supervision, such as blood pressure changes and rapid heart rate. The autonomic nervous system can be adversely affected by heavy drug use, and it takes time to recover normal functions of the brain and body systems.

Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon when you are coming off opiates due to the lack of stimulants coursing through the body and feeling unwell throughout withdrawal. In addition to the physical stress on your body, many emotional and social issues arise that are difficult to handle. Having personalized and holistic health care is imperative for success. Following all instructions designed to support your overall well-being is critical when deciding to end your drug use.

How Long Does It Stay in Your System?

How long fentanyl stays in your body is primarily determined by how the drug is taken: pills, injections, powders, patches, lozenges, etc. Additionally, these factors matter for how long fentanyl remains in the body: age, body fat, duration of use, metabolic rate, liver function, drug dosage, general health, genetics, and presence of other substances. Food consumption also makes a difference when the body is eliminating drugs from your system.

Drugs have a half-life based on how they are administered. This is how fentanyl’s half-life breaks down: intravenous (two to four hours), transmucosal (5 to 14 hours), and transdermal (17 hours). Most of the toxic effects have passed after half of the drug is worn off. Fentanyl in your system is detected in the body by three tests:

  1. Blood: Drug is found in blood up to 48 hours after use.
  2. Urine: Drug is detectable from one to three days once consumed.
  3. Hair: Drug is found in hair follicles up to three months after consumption.

Saliva testing is not an accurate measure of fentanyl use.

How Much Fentanyl Can Kill You?

In uncontrolled situations, the difference between a safe dose of fentanyl and a lethal dose is difficult to determine. Your body weight, health status, use history, and many other factors at the moment you take the drug can make a difference in the outcome. Additionally, if you are consuming drugs and are unaware that they are laced with fentanyl, it is a recipe for disaster.

With illegally manufactured drugs, the combinations are potent with the specific goal of keeping people hooked and wanting more. These concoctions are created under unsafe conditions, and neither the manufacturer nor the user knows what the finished product will deliver. According to the DEA, as little as 2 mg of fentanyl is considered a deadly dose, and two of every five counterfeit pills seized contain a lethal drug dose. The illicit drug is so dangerous that the public service message highlighting DEA warnings is “One Pill Can Kill.”

The results are equally grim for individuals who get prescription fentanyl when the substance is not used as directed. In the case of patches, people abuse them in these ways:

  • Using more than one patch at a time
  • Chewing on patches
  • Applying patches more frequently than prescribed
  • Injecting the drug extracted from a patch
  • Inserting patches in the rectum for fast absorption

All these choices can result in devastating consequences. While illegally manufactured drugs are far more dangerous in scope, legally obtained drugs that are misused can be equally deadly.

How Is Fentanyl Distribution Being Regulated?

The Department of Homeland Security enacted the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act to combat the trafficking and concealment of synthetic opioids, of which fentanyl is a primary concern. The Stop Act is an important measure to prevent drugs from crossing the border and passing through the postal system.

It is far more difficult to manage the online trafficking of counterfeit pills. Federal, state and local authorities agree they must do more to protect citizens against predatory trafficking tactics, which the DHS says is an urgent and growing security matter.

Why Does Whole-Person Treatment Matter for Your Recovery?

At Clean Recovery, our mission is to provide treatment that considers your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. A whole-person approach to recovery and wellness is vital for lasting results. You need to understand the issues that brought you to this point and how to manage life. Our program is designed to work with your strengths so that you can build on the skills for a better life. We help you meet personal objectives so that when the time comes for you to move forward, you have the confidence to succeed on your terms.

We are here to help you get on track with our unique three-phase recovery flow: preparation, action and maintenance. We go the entire way with you and offer an alumni program for continued support once your treatment program is completed. If you want to make a new start, please contact us today to learn more about our program.

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