Addiction to fentanyl is a complex disorder involving numerous risk factors to health and well-being. For those using this drug, it may seem impossible to stop. That’s because fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine–and highly addictive.
How Fentanyl Is Used
After a surgical procedure or other very painful treatment, doctors may prescribe fentanyl for short-term pain control. In prescription form, fentanyl is sold under names such as Sublimaze, Duragesic, and Actiq. Those who have a high tolerance to other pain medications may need fentanyl for relief.
Fentanyl is commonly used in a pill form. However, doctors may administer it as a shot, a topical patch, or in lozenges. When used illegally, it is often sold as a powder that’s made into pills (which often look just like other opioid prescription medications), or it may be used as a nasal spray.
Fentanyl is sold illicitly under names such as Apache, goodfellas, jackpot, tango, and dance fever. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that fentanyl is one of the synthetic opioids commonly found in people who overdose. In 2017, an estimated 59 percent of all opioid-related deaths occurring in the U.S. involved the drug.
High Risk Use Some People Don’t Know Is Happening
In some situations, drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, meth, or MDMA. The presence of fentanyl is not always disclosed to the person purchasing the drug. That is, the person buying the drug may believe they are getting just heroin, which is far less potent than fentanyl. Fentanyl-laced drugs put a person at a much higher risk for addiction, dependence, and overdose.
How Does Fentanyl Addiction Form?
When a person uses opioids, the drugs reduce the function of the opioid receptors in the brain. This helps to prevent pain signals from traveling from the body to the central nervous system. As a result, a person doesn’t feel pain.
However, fentanyl also impacts the area of the brain that controls emotions, including pleasure. When a person uses the drug numerous times, the brain chemistry changes. The brain starts to adapt to the presence of the drug. It connects the use of the drug to the feeling of pleasure. Over time, tolerance builds. That leads to the need to use more of the drug to get the same type of relief and pleasure.
A person becomes addicted to fentanyl when they need to compulsively use the drug even though they recognize that doing so puts them at a higher risk for overdose. Dependence also forms. This occurs when the brain and body become reliant on the drug, so much so that a person feels intense withdrawal pains when not using it.
When a person first starts using fentanyl, they may experience:
- Extreme happiness
- Difficulty breathing
In a controlled setting, doctors prescribe the smallest dose possible and use it prudently. However, these side effects may still occur even in smaller doses.
The Risk of Overdose from Fentanyl
As noted, a person develops tolerance to fentanyl over a period of consistent use. At that point, more of the drug is required to achieve the same effects. Yet the body cannot handle the side effects of the higher doses. An overdose occurs when breath and heart rate slow so much that oxygen cannot get to the brain. This can lead to a coma, permanent brain damage, or death.
It may be possible for emergency personnel to treat fentanyl overdose using a drug like naloxone, administered quickly. However, because fentanyl is so much more potent than other opioids, it may take several doses of naloxone to reverse the effects of the drug. And the high risk of brain damage remains.
What You Can Do Now About Fentanyl Addiction
Do you find yourself needing to use more of the pain medication you have to get the same high or relief? Are you buying fentanyl without a prescription?
In these cases, getting fentanyl addiction treatment is critical. In most situations, a medical detox program will be a necessary first step. This helps to break the intense cravings for the drug while managing the withdrawal symptoms. With long-term treatment and therapy, a person may be able to reduce their need for this drug. Some therapies commonly used include:
- Motivational interviewing to help encourage a person to participate in treatment
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy to help change a person’s thought process and behaviors
- Contingency management, a type of reward-like system for not using the drug
Fentanyl addiction can happen quickly with deadly results. Don’t wait to reach out for immediate help from a trusted treatment center.