The opioid epidemic has become a major public health concern in recent years, with fentanyl and other opioids being used more frequently and often leading to addiction, overdose and death.
Fentanyl is an especially powerful synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is often combined with heroin or cocaine without the user’s knowledge, making it even more dangerous.
While it can provide relief for those suffering from severe pain, the risks of developing a substance use disorder and overdose are too great for recreational use.
In this article, we will explore the dangers of fentanyl and opioid abuse, as well as how to get help.
Definition of Fentanyl and Opioid Abuse
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 – 100 times stronger than heroin and morphine.
It is the number one contributor to overdoses and deaths in the US.
There are two types of fentanyl:
- prescription (pharmaceutical) fentanyl
- illicitly manufactured fentanyl
Both of these forms are considered synthetic opioids. Doctors are prescribing fentanyl to treat severe and chronic pain. In its prescription form, it is known as Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze.
Recreational use has been on the rise over the past number of years and is the leading cause of overdoses and deaths.
Because they stimulate the brain’s powerful reward centers, opiates are highly addictive. Endorphins, the brain’s neurotransmitters that make us feel good, are released and produce a potent, albeit brief, sense of well-being by decreasing pain and increasing pleasure.
Abuse and addiction start when the drug starts to wear off and the user is left with an overwhelming urge to use again.
Overview of the Current Crisis
More doctors started prescribing opioid painkillers to their patients in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies assured them that they were not addictive.
It became abundantly clear over the coming years that these drugs were contributing to high rates of opioid abuse, overdoses and death.
The opioid crisis in the US has a major impact on the country’s well-being. The epidemic is estimated to cost nearly $80 billion annually in lost wages, healthcare costs and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids in the world yet its popularity continues to rise and the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives.
Many people are unaware that the substance they’re consuming is spiked with fentanyl which increases the risk of overdose and death.
From 1999 to 2020, close to 600,000 people died from an opioid related overdose. This number includes both illegal and prescription forms of the drugs.
- 38% increase in opioid related deaths
- 56% increase in synthetic opioid related deaths (this does not include methadone)
- 17% increase in prescription opioid related deaths
- 7% decrease of heroin related deaths (users are switching to fentanyl)
The Dangers and Risks of Fentanyl and Opioid Abuse
Opioids are highly addictive and have a high risk of overdose and death. Addiction develops quite quickly because one’s tolerance builds up and more of the substance is needed to achieve the same results.
It is becoming more and more difficult for people to have their dose increased by their doctor and oftentimes they will not refill the prescription. This leads to seeking the drug illegally.
Most people with opioid use disorder started taking the drug due to severe pain issues, not recreationally.
Risk Factors Addiction and Misuse
- Socioeconomic status – people who are unemployed and or living in poverty face a higher risk of addiction
- Personal and family substance abuse history – people who have a history of drug use or grew up in a home where addiction was present, have an increased risk of addiction
- High-risk individuals or environments – there are higher levels of addiction among people with mental health issues or who are involved with crime and or have spent time in prision. This also applies to people close to them (friends, family).
- Gender – interestingly, women tend to have a greater propensity to become dependent on opioids than men. They experience more chronic pain and are more likely to be prescribed opioids and to use them for longer periods of time.
Effects on Physical Health
Opioid abuse can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and lead to death. A person who abuses opioids may be in poor health overall.
Symptoms or health problems are often ignored and things like checkups, colonoscopies and mammograms are missed and avoided.
Organs Affected by Drug Abuse
- brain and body become overly sensitive to pain
- forgetfulness, drowsiness, nodding off and trouble sleeping
- depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
- nausea, vomiting, cramps
- constipation, obstructions, blockages
- heart failure – not able to pump enough blood
- heart attack – blocked blood flow
- respiratory failure
- sleep apnea (low oxygen during sleep)
- bone fractures (due to weakening of the bones and increased risk of falls)
Get Help for Fentanyl and Opioid Abuse
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
The first step in treating substance abuse is the person admitting that they have a problem and having the motivation to quit using drugs.
Sometimes people need to be admitted to a detox facility to manage the withdrawal symptoms. This can be done as an outpatient or inpatient.
There are three medications used to treat OUD:
- Methadone – relieves pain, decreases cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms. Was the only drug being used prior to 2000. Has a higher potential for abuse.
- Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) – reduces cravings and pain, prevents withdrawal symptoms and increases one’s overall sense of wellbeing. Became more popular after its introduction in 2002. This tends to be preferred by practitioners as it has a lower potential for abuse.
- Naltrexone – blocks the effects so the drug does not provide any type of high or pleasurable feeling. This medication is usually taken once a day.
These medications can block the effects of opioids in the brain and aim to ensure that the person experiences few or no side effects or withdrawal symptoms and has less cravings.
MAT should be used in combination with counseling and therapies to provide a whole-patient approach. This will increase recovery success rates.
There are various behavior-focused therapies that can be implemented throughout the detox and recovery process. These therapies include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): teaches ways to change thought patterns and behaviors
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): instills ways to stay motivated during recovery
- Group counseling: with peers or family members
- Residential programs: inpatient treatment takes place in a facility that can provide both medical and emotional support and have the best success rates
Contact Luxe Recovery if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction. Our admissions staff can talk to you about a variety of high-quality treatment options that best suit your needs.
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