Fentanyl Abuse: The Prescription Killer
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a drug given to relieve chronic pain. The opioid shot to fame after the rock icon Prince died as a result of an accidental overdose of the drug.
Fentanyl is one of the strongest prescription painkillers available and is currently taken by millions of people across the US to help control their pain. However, it is also fast becoming a drug of abuse.
All opioids treat pain effectively but carry a risk of addiction. The problem with Fentanyl is its strength and the way it works. Fentanyl was developed as a fast-acting pain killer in 1960, however, while the effects are rapid they are also short-lived making the user look for an additional dose. The other problem is that the margin between safety and overdose is very small giving the drug a high overdose risk. Fentanyl is most commonly used in hospitals because of this risk and the fact that it is 100 times stronger than morphine, making it a high-risk candidate for abuse.
Opioids are often prescribed after surgery for a short period of recovery, but for some, they are needed in the long term. They are effective but also risky and the abuse of opioids is growing nationally.
The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has announced that 1,000 people in the US died from an overdose of Fentanyl between 2005 and 2007. Nurses, doctors and anesthesiologists have a high risk of abusing the drug because of its availability in hospital, however, it is more usual to see the abuse of prescription Fentanyl and this is increasing in line with its availability in the community.
Watching for Signs of Fentanyl Abuse
Users often experience a range of unpleasant side effects when using Fentanyl including:
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness, headaches
- Sweating and itching
- Slower breathing
- Nausea, poor appetite, weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Visual problems
In the case of overdose the person may quickly become unconscious and a coma and death my follow.
In addition to the side effects of the drug, a user may also experience long-term physical or mental issues including suppressed immunity, fits, delusions, paranoia and personality changes.
How and why is Fentanyl abused?
Like other opiates, Fentanyl gives the user feelings of euphoria alongside making them feel more relaxed, drowsy and calm. It is a powerful opiate and dependency can develop in a short time. The drug comes as a pill, injection or a dissolvable film. Once addiction occurs the users often move onto other opioids like heroin because it is cheaper and easier to find. Sometimes Fentanyl is mixed with other drugs like heroin to increase the effect and in the case of illegally sold Fentanyl, it can be cut with other street drugs making a potentially lethal cocktail.
Treating Opioid Addiction
Opioids withdrawal can be life-threatening so it is always done under medical supervision. The symptoms range from mild discomfort through to extreme pain and this often causes a relapse. The solution has been to help an individual through withdrawal by using medication. This makes the process more comfortable and reduces the risk of relapse.
After detox is complete a good treatment program will look at the underlying mental or psychological processes that lead to addiction, helping people develop an understanding of their motivations and encouraging them to develop new ways to cope with stress.
Residential treatments like those offered by The Last House are known to be the most effective because people are removed from environments where they can fall back into old patterns of obtaining and abusing substances. Time away from peers, negative environments and stresses can help lay a firm foundation for long term sobriety.