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The Fentanyl Epidemic: What You Need to Know to Save Lives

Los Angeles County, like most of the country, is experiencing an opioid epidemic, and fentanyl is at the root of it. In 2022, fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine to become the most common drug type listed as a cause of death in accidental drug overdoses.

In fact, fentanyl accounts for nearly 60 percent of all alcohol and other drug overdose deaths. There are many risks associated with this synthetic opioid, and knowing what they are and how to recognize an overdose can save lives. 

Below is everything you need to know about fentanyl, how it’s impacting the Los Angeles area, and how to recognize an overdose. 

What is Fentanyl? 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but about 100 times stronger. Despite being prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, fentanyl is also illegally manufactured and used. It is this fentanyl that is responsible for the rise in overdose deaths. Just a few milligrams of the drug can be fatal. And, since fentanyl has no distinctive taste or odor, you can’t tell if it has been added to another substance. Therefore, many people who overdose on fentanyl don’t know they have ingested it. 

Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous? 

As mentioned above, fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid. The equivalent of a few grains of table salt is enough to kill someone. While some people are aware that they are taking the drug, many others are not. This happens because fentanyl is commonly added to other substances, such as methamphetamine, heroin and other pills, to make it stronger, more powerful and more addictive. Unfortunately, when fentanyl is added to these substances, people end up taking it without realizing it. 

What are the Signs of a Fentanyl Overdose? 

Most people who survive a fentanyl overdose are alive today because someone around them knew what to look for and how to administer naloxone. Here are the major signs of a fentanyl overdose: 

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slow or irregular breathing 
  • Non-responsiveness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Choking or gurgling sounds 
  • Cold, clammy skin 

How Should I Respond to a Fentanyl Overdose? 

If you believe someone is experiencing fentanyl poisoning, there’s a medication called naloxone (Narcan) that can reverse the effects. Naloxone can help a person start breathing again, though medical attention is still required. It’s possible that the person may need another dose of naloxone, as well as other interventions. Fortunately, by administering naloxone, the person can arrive at the emergency room still breathing. 

How is Naloxone Administered? 

Naloxone is a safe medication that can be used on all ages, even infants. It’s easy to use and intended to be this way, so anyone can use it while waiting for help to arrive. If you believe that someone is experiencing an overdose, you’ll want to lay them down on their right side, insert the device into their nose, and push the button. One push will administer a single dose. If the person does not respond, you can use the other device (naloxone kits come in packs of two) to give them another dose. 

It’s important to note that naloxone only reverses the effects on someone’s breathing, and it only works for opioids. 

What is the Best Way to Treat a Fentanyl Addiction? 

A fentanyl addiction is treated similarly to other opioid use disorders. Medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapies are the gold standard for treating fentanyl addiction. Methadone and buprenorphine are used to reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, while naltrexone is used to block the effects of opioids in case a person relapses. Other medications may also be prescribed to treat acute symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, depression and nausea. 

In terms of therapy, individual counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management, work well. In addition to improving communication and teaching new ways to cope, group counseling and family counseling can also help by working through unhealthy relationship patterns, such as codependency. 

Getting Help for a Fentanyl Addiction 

Awakenings Treatment Center is a holistic healing center in Agoura Hills, CA. We provide treatment services for fentanyl use disorder, including medication management and therapy. We recognize how difficult it can be to recover from an opioid use disorder, but we give our clients the tools and resources they need to be successful in this journey. In fact, we watch people embrace sobriety every day! To learn more about our programs, contact our admissions department today.