person standing alone

The Fentanyl Crisis: What You Need to Know

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but much stronger. The prescription drug is used to treat patients with severe pain, but it can also be made synthetically and sold illegally on the streets. Fentanyl is highly addictive because of its high potency, fast onset, and duration of desired effects. The opioid is also deadly. 

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl accounted for roughly 3,000 deaths in 2013. By 2018, they accounted for over 30,000 deaths. It’s clear that we are experiencing a fentanyl crisis - and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. 

What Makes Fentanyl So Dangerous? 

Fentanyl was first developed by Paul Janssen in 1960. At the time, it was the fastest-acting opioid on the market. Today, fentanyl is still used to control pain in some patients. When prescribed and used properly, the drug can be safe. Patients who are prescribed fentanyl are also monitored closely.

Problems arise when fentanyl is inappropriately prescribed, not properly overseen or misused. Based on data from the National Vital Statistics System, the overall mortality rates from fentanyl have increased substantially. Deaths most commonly occur in the northeastern United States and affect younger people between the ages of 20-40. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can cause a person to stop breathing. 

Here is what makes fentanyl so scary: 

  • Fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.
  • You can’t see, smell or taste fentanyl. Therefore, you won’t know if a pill or powder contains fentanyl or how large the quantity is.
  • There is a small difference between a dose that will get you high and a dose that will kill you. The dose the size of a grain of sand can be deadly.
  • It’s possible to overdose on a prescription fentanyl patch, as each person’s dose is different.
  • The risk for overdose is even higher if you’re using other drugs like opioids, alcohol or sedatives. 

Where is Street Fentanyl Coming From? 

Even though fentanyl is currently approved to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients and postoperative pain, the potential for abuse and rise in overdose deaths makes it a serious problem for the general public. Since 2006, fentanyl-related deaths have steadily increased. Synthetic opioids have now surpassed prescription opioids as the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the U.S

Street fentanyl comes from three main sources: 

  • Illegal drug labs. Most commonly, fentanyl is made in Chinese labs and sent directly to the U.S. in the flow of commerce. It’s often cut into fake narcotic pills or heroin, then mailed from dealers to users who order from the dark web. 
  • Organized crime groups. Some organized crime groups from Mexico bring fentanyl over to the U.S. to be sold on the streets. There are also Asian organized crime groups out of Canada. 
  • Misused patches. People also get their hands on fentanyl by stealing or purchasing patches from the people they belong to.

It’s important to point out that fentanyl is cheap and easy to produce, much like methamphetamine, which is another big market for Mexico. With their experience in the methamphetamine trade, the Mexican super labs are well-positioned to create synthetic fentanyl and push it through the U.S. 

woman sitting alone

How Do People Die from Fentanyl?

It’s very easy to overdose on fentanyl. When a person overdoses, their breathing can slow and reduce oxygen to the brain. This can lead to hypoxia, a condition where a region in the body is deprived of oxygen. As a result, coma, permanent brain damage or death can occur. 

Another complication with fentanyl is that an overdose happens suddenly. Users say the effects are immediate, sometimes even before the person is done using the drug. This leaves very little time to intervene. It’s important to know the signs of a potential fentanyl overdose so that you know to get help right away.

After interviewing people on what happens during a fentanyl overdose, here are the symptoms they saw: 

  • Lips turning blue 
  • Gurgling sounds with breathing
  • Stiffening of the body 
  • Seizure-like activity 
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Confusion or strange behavior 
  • Unresponsiveness 

Can a Fentanyl Overdose be Reversed? 

It is possible to treat a fentanyl overdose, but time is critical. The drug used to reverse an opioid is the same for a heroin overdose - naloxone. According to one report, a single dose of naloxone was not enough in 83 percent of overdose cases. Instead, two or more doses were needed. This goes to show how powerful the drug is and how quickly it affects the body. 

Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to treating opioid-related overdoses. It can be delivered by EMS, law enforcement, bystanders or other drug users who have obtained the medication, depending on state and local laws. While naloxone is not a solution to the growing fentanyl problem, it is a harm reduction technique that can save lives

Of course, there is no guarantee that naloxone will reverse the overdose. Fentanyl is fast-acting and powerful, and more than one dose is often needed to stop the effects. It’s possible that even with administering naloxone, the person can still die. 

What are the Signs of a Fentanyl Problem?

Knowing how dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl are, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a problem. Fentanyl abuse occurs from the euphoric effects it produces. What often starts as a way to manage pain, the powerful high and effect on the whole body makes this drug hard to resist.

Here are the possible signs of fentanyl addiction.

Please be aware that these symptoms are not restricted to fentanyl only. It's possible a different drug is to blame, or a mental illness may be present. 

  • Mood symptoms. Look for changes in mood. People who crave fentanyl often get anxious when the drug runs low. 
  • Behavioral. Over time, it’s common to take fentanyl in larger amounts, spend more time obtaining or using the drug and continuing to use the drug despite negative consequences. As the addiction grows more severe, the user may give up activities that were once important. 
  • Physical. Physical effects are common and include swollen hands and feet, stomach ailments, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, and depressed respiration. 
  • Tolerance. Because of fentanyl’s addictive nature, users experience tolerance, cravings and withdrawal effects early on. They need more of the drug to achieve the same effects, raising the risk for overdose and death. 
  • Psychological. Many people who abuse synthetic drugs have trouble concentrating and experience confusion. 

woman standing alone

How to Treat a Fentanyl Addiction

As serious as a fentanyl addiction is, it does respond to addiction treatment in Agoura. For a successful recovery, you need medically supervised detox, counseling, and aftercare. 

Detox 

It is not recommended to detox from fentanyl on your own. Withdrawal symptoms arise between 6-36 hours from the last dose. The duration and severity depend on various factors, such as how much of the drug you were using and co-occurring disorders. The earliest withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Restlessness
  • Headache 
  • Muscle cramps or pain 

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal usually peak 1-2 days from the last dose. As the drug leaves the body, it’s normal to experience diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, body aches, tremors, and loss of appetite. Most of these symptoms subside within 10 days, but there are some effects that can persist for months like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and irritability. 

When seeking detox through a medically supervised detox program, be aware that symptoms are managed as much as possible. This makes the detox process more tolerable and successful. Furthermore, having 24-hour supervision makes it more likely that you will complete detox and move onto counseling. 

Counseling 

Once detox is complete, the next step is counseling at a reputable dual diagnosis rehab in California. This may be offered at the same facility or a separate inpatient or outpatient treatment center. The important thing is that this treatment comes soon after detox. This is when it's most effective, and it teaches essential coping skills and strategies that will help you be successful in recovery. 

Here are the main types of counseling that are effective in treating substance abuse: 

  • Individual therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and art therapy are effective at treating addiction. The goal of these therapies is to understand what led to the fentanyl abuse, process past traumas and learn new ways to cope.
  • Group therapy. Group therapy is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other people who are going through similar challenges. Members can share their stories, listen to each other and gain a fresh perspective on the recovery journey. 
  • Family therapy. It's important for families to understand their role in their loved one’s recoveries. Family therapy is where this happens, and each member learns how they can create a safe and supportive environment. 
  • Medication management. Fentanyl addiction is often treated with medication, just as other opioid addictions are. Common medications prescribed are buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone. These medications are most effective when combined with talk therapy. 

Treatment Centers for Fentanyl Addiction 

  • Inpatient treatment. Also known as residential treatment, this program requires you to live at the facility. It’s intensive and provides 24-hour supervision. However, inpatient care is also more expensive and does require an absence from work or school.
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient programs provide individual and group counseling as often as needed. Most people attend therapy 3-5 days a week. The benefit of outpatient care is that you can live at home. But, because it’s not as intensive, it’s best for mild-to-moderate addictions.
  • Intensive outpatient program. An IOP meets in the middle of inpatient and outpatient care. It’s more intensive and requires treatment most days of the week, but you have the luxury of returning home. 

group counseling

Features to Look For in a Fentanyl Treatment Program 

When choosing a treatment program, consider what you need to get sober and stay on track with your recovery goals. If you have a supportive family and a sober living environment, an intensive outpatient program may be a great fit. However, if you come from a toxic environment, you may need the support and structure of an inpatient program or an outpatient program combined with sober housing. 

Here are a few things we recommend looking for in an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab: 

  • Tailored programs. Your treatment center should offer a tailored program that meets your unique needs. All treatment should also be delivered in a safe, private setting.
  • Effective, researched-based treatments. Experimental or controversial treatments are not recommended for treating fentanyl addiction. Choose a treatment program that offers research-based therapies like counseling, neurofeedback, and medication management. 
  • Holistic care. A full recovery requires the mind, body, and spirit to heal. Look for programs that focus on all aspects of wellness.
  • Co-occurring treatment. Many people with substance abuse disorders have a mental health disorder as well. If you feel that you have a dual diagnosis, select a program that specializes in this type of care.  
  • Therapeutic practices. As recovering addicts discover new ways to cope with stressful situations, therapeutic practices are extremely helpful. You can experiment with them in treatment and find what works best. 

Fentanyl addictions are serious. If you or a loved one is abusing fentanyl or any other opioid medication, contact Awakenings Treatment Center right away. We can verify your insurance and let you know of the programs that can help you.