Fentanyl and Opioid Addiction – Causes, Risk Factors and Triggers

Definition of Fentanyl and Opioids

Opioids can be found in many different forms, both illegally produced drugs and prescribed medications. In order to relieve pain, doctors can prescribe opioids, which is typically how someone develops an addiction.

When tolerance sets in, more of the drug is required to produce the same effect, which brings us to the problem: many doctors, especially in this day and age, are reluctant to up the dose or refill the prescription, which leads to people looking for the drug – or illicit versions of it – on the black market.

There is substantial risk of addiction, overdose and death even when medication is used as directed.

One experiences an intense urge to use the substance when the effects of the drug start to wear off. This, often uncontrollable, urge is a sign that one is rapidly developing an addiction.

Various types of opioids:

  • Heroin, Opium
  • Codeine, Morphine, Meperidine
  • Oxymorphone, Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl (prescription and produced illegally)

Overview of the Opioid Epidemic 

Back in the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies worked hard to convince doctors that their amazing new prescription opioids were totally safe and non-addictive.

Over the ensuing years, it became abundantly evident that these drugs were, in fact, highly addictive and the number one contributor to fatal drug overdoses. At an unbelievable rate, lives and families were and still are being destroyed.

Fentanyl is being added to many illegal narcotics, including cocaine, heroin and meth because it is more affordable to produce and provides a more potent high when consumed, even in extremely small amounts.

Unintentional drug consumption by individuals has greatly increased the number of accidental overdoses and fatalities.

Points to consider:

  • The opioid crisis is thought to cost up to $80 billion annually in healthcare expenses, lost income and wages and strain on the prison system
  • The high rates of abuse and addiction are directly caused by the careless actions of medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies
  • Opioid abuse issues, once a major concern in cities, has become more prevalent in rural areas, posing a serious threat to public health
  • Addiction is more common in those who have co-occurring mental health problems and other substance use disorders
  • In recent years, there has been an increase in education and public awareness, but not enough to counteract the negative effects opioids are having on society

Risk Factors & Causes of Fentanyl / Opioid Use and Addiction 

Because they stimulate the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, opioids are extremely addictive. Endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, are released when opioids are used.

These endorphins reduce discomfort and heighten pleasure, producing a fleeting sense of well-being. There is a strong urge to use again when the dose wears off, which is how addiction starts.

Your body naturally produces endorphins, but this process is slowed down when you take opioids over time. Tolerance develops and one must consume more of the drug to achieve the same effect. 

It can be challenging to convince your doctor to increase your dose or renew your prescription because doctors are now more aware of the dangers of addiction.

At this point, many people resort to seeking their medication illegally which often leads to using other forms of the drug.

Environmental Factors

People struggling with co-occurring mental health issues, involved with illegal or criminal activity and those who have served time in prison have higher rates of opioid addiction.

The same holds true for people who are close to them, like friends and family. These people tend to end up in high-risk or dangerous situations where drug use is common.

People who grew up in a home where they were exposed to substance use have a higher risk of developing an addiction. This can be in part due to genetic predisposition as well as learned behaviors.

Living in poverty and facing periods of unemployment increases one’s risk of opioid use disorder. 


In recent years, more young women, particularly those who are childbearing age, have developed OUD. Due to this, the use of pregnant women has increased, and their kids are now more likely to be born with Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS).

Why are more women using opioids? 

  • Women have more pain related issues than their male counterparts and doctors tend to prescribe more opioids to them
  • It has been reported that women have an increased risk for OUD and experience more severe symptoms, including cravings
  • Women are more likely to use opioids for things like depression and anxiety
  • Men make up about 70% of opioid overdose deaths but interestingly, overdose deaths among women have been steadily increasing at a rate of 1,326% compared to 901% for men


In all demographic groups in the US, the prevalence of opioid use disorder has soared. However, recent reports have highlighted observations of racial differences in opioid overdose mortality.

In some racial groups, genetic variables are thought to have an effect on the symptoms of opioid use disorder. These studies are crucial because genetic and epigenetic variables may potentially affect.

Some groups are found to have a propensity to use certain types of opioids over others:

  • White men and women have an increased risk of overdose from all types of opioids
  • Men and women of Black and Hispanic descent prefer heroin
  • American-Indian & Alaska-Native men and women use more prescription opioids
  • More than 75% of people with OUD are young white men 18-34 years old 

Education / Prevention Programs for Opioid Addiction 

Public awareness and educational campaigns aim to reduce and prevent substance use, overdoses and deaths and are essential tools in the fight against addiction.

Prevention programs offer valuable resources to community members and help educate people on the dangers of legal and illegal opioids, substance misuse, addiction and treatment options. 

Campaigns use a range of media to target particular populations, including billboards, print ads, digital banner ads, websites, television and radio PSAs, social media, brochures, posters and events.

There is a lot of misinformation about substance abuse that can be dispelled through community education. It also helps to reduce stigma which helps people with OUD feel supported and understood.

Reducing drug use has a direct impact on the rate of overdoses and deaths.

Preventative measures:

  • increase funding to provide access to education and opioid treatment programs
  • improve the systems in place to monitor prescribing and dispensing 
  • increase education for medical professionals 
  • monitor and limit the sale of over-the-counter opioids

There is a gap between recommendations and practice. Only half of the countries in the world provide access to effective treatment options and less than 10% of people in need are actually getting it.

Get Help

Are you or a loved one struggling with opioid or fentanyl use? There are various treatment options which the friendly admissions team at Luxe Recovery are happy to discuss with you. Please get in touch with us today.

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