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Fentanyl Facts

Fentanyl Facts

Opioid overdose deaths in the last several years are largely attributed to fentanyl. It’s taken center stage in the opioid epidemic, which began with heroin and prescription drugs in the 1990s. Addiction authorities such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse are actively working with the U.S. government to advance research on fentanyl and find solutions to widespread fentanyl abuse and overdoses on fentanyl.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Synthetic means that it’s a human-made opioid instead of coming directly from the poppy plant.  It’s produced to work in similar ways as natural opioids. Fentanyl works on the same opioid receptors in your brain as natural opioids like codeine and morphine. It was originally made to manage severe pain after surgeries or in cancer patients. Now it’s often either diverted to sell on the streets or illegally manufactured. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) designates fentanyl as a schedule ll drug. This means it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Heroin commonly contains fentanyl. Drug dealers also cut drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine with fentanyl. People who use fentanyl illegally either purchase it intentionally or take it unintentionally, not knowing their regular drug contains it. Because fentanyl is so potent, a small amount can lead to overdose, so if you take your regular dose of heroin and it’s laced with fentanyl, you’re in real danger.

History of Fentanyl

Fentanyl was developed in the late 1950s in Belgium. By 1968 it was being used throughout Western Europe and the United States to treat severe pain from surgical procedures. When the FDA approved it in 1968, there were opponents that raised flags about its high potential for abuse to no avail. In the 1970s and 1980s, fentanyl was becoming a staple in relieving surgical pain. It was also used for cancer pain and breakthrough pain in people who were on less potent painkillers. During the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began making different forms of fentanyl. Once only taken intravenously, there were now fentanyl patches, fentanyl “lollipops,” sprays, tablets, lozenges, and dissolvable films for the tongue.

Though fentanyl abuse and overdose deaths started making headlines in the last decade, people have been abusing fentanyl and overdosing on it since the 1970s. Public health advisories began to surface around 2005 of abuse, overdose deaths, and warnings of potential overprescribing of fentanyl. Around 2013, it became apparent of the wide diversion of the prescription drug as well as the illicit manufacturing of fentanyl. Hospitals began seeing cases of drug overdose deaths of people who had taken heroin not knowing it was laced with fentanyl. 

Since then, it’s been a steady increase in deaths related to fentanyl. In 2016, 20,000 of the 64,000 overdose deaths were attributed to synthetic opioids with fentanyl topping the list. In January of 2018, 64% of opioid deaths involved synthetic opioids and by June 2021, 87% of opioid deaths involved synthetic opioids.

How Do People Use Fentanyl?

Doctors prescribe fentanyl through these methods of administration:
  • Transdermal patches
  • Tablets and pills
  • Shots
  • Lollipops/lozenges
  • Sprays
People who use fentanyl illegally may buy diverted fentanyl. This means it’s a medically produced form of fentanyl that has made its way to the street to buy for recreational use. Some people will drain fentanyl out of transdermal patches and make it into a form they can inject. Illegal fentanyl is commonly sold as a powder on blotter paper. Illicit manufacturers may also make it into a liquid and sell it in eye droppers or nasal sprays. 

Other Names for Fentanyl

Brand names for fentanyl include Sublimaze, Actiq, Fentora, Lazanda, and Duragesic. Illicit fentanyl from drug dealers goes by a variety of names, like:
  • Drop Dead
  • Murder 8
  • China White
  • Serial Killer
  • Dance Fever
  • Apache
  • Shine
  • Jackpot
  • Percopop
  • Goodfella
  • TNT
Some of these street names are the same ones given to heroin, so you may buy fentanyl thinking it’s heroin, which puts you at great risk for overdose.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

Fentanyl comes in various forms. Fentanyl patches are clear patches that adhere to your skin. The “lollipop” form of fentanyl looks like a lollipop, though the medical ones typically have a white box with the prescription information on the end and the candy part is thinner than a regular lollipop. Fentanyl tablets are white, but illicit or counterfeit pills may be yellow, pale, blue, or green. Fentanyl may also be sold illegally in powder and injectable forms.

What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?

Fentanyl reportedly does not have a distinguishable taste. One survey of fentanyl users described fentanyl as having a sweeter taste than heroin, which tends to taste bitter. This makes it difficult to know if you’re taking an illicit drug containing fentanyl that could lead to a lethal dose. The only way to really identify fentanyl in drugs is by using a fentanyl test strip.

What Does Fentanyl Feel Like?

How fentanyl affects you depends on the dosage, how long you’ve been taking fentanyl, and your individual physical makeup. Fentanyl’s effects are similar to other opioids, and may include:

  • Pain relief
  • Euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Problems emptying your bladder fully
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Respiratory depression

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

Depending on the type of drug test, you can detect fentanyl in your system from three hours to three months after the last use. The time it takes for fentanyl to leave your system is based on the drug’s elimination halflife. This is a complex concept, but in essence, it’s the period it takes for fentanyl to be broken down from its maximum concentration into decreasing amounts and various chemicals. How long fentanyl stays in your system is based on:
  • How much fentanyl you’ve taken
  • How you took it (lozenge, intravenously, etc.)
  • Your individual physical makeup
  • How long you’ve been abusing fentanyl
Generally, fentanyl can be detected in your system for these amounts of time in standard drug tests: Urine test – detectable in urine one to three days Blood test – detectable in blood three to 12 hours Hair follicle test – detectable in hair up to 3 months These are general estimates. It’s possible to test positive for fentanyl for shorter or longer detection times than the ones listed.

What Are Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Abuse?

The dangers of fentanyl abuse are many. It’s 50 times more potent than drugs like heroin making it riskier than most other opioids. When you abuse fentanyl, you’re increasing your risk of:

Overdose

It takes a much smaller amount of fentanyl to overdose  than other prescription opioids and heroin. Overdose can lead to coma, long-term medical issues, or death.

Heart Problems

Opioids like fentanyl impact your cardiovascular system and can increase your risk of heart attack, blood pressure, and heart failure. 

Mental Illness

Fentanyl impacts your brain’s natural production of neurotransmitters like dopamine that are directly tied to mood and psychological health. Abusing fentanyl depletes these chemicals over time increasing your risk for depression and anxiety.

Brain Damage

Fentanyl can damage your frontal lobe, which can interfere with functions like spatial awareness, attention, and memory. 

Gastrointestinal Issues

Abusing fentanyl may affect digestive components by inflaming your stomach lining, creating holes in your intestines, and obstructing bowls. 

Illness

Illicit and prescription opioids can suppress immune cells that are responsible for fighting infections. 

Fentanyl Addiction Signs

If you or a loved one is using fentanyl any way other than as prescribed by a doctor, you should seek help as soon as possible. This dangerous addiction does not get better on its own and takes thousands of lives each year. Some signs of fentanyl abuse and addiction include:

  • Needing more fentanyl to get the desired effect and increasing it without doctor approval.
  • Inability to stop taking fentanyl.
  • Doctor shopping for more prescriptions.
  • Constantly thinking about fentanyl and when you’ll use it again.
  • Buying fentanyl illegally.
  • Putting yourself and others in danger while on fentanyl (driving, operating heavy machinery, etc.)
  • Depleting your finances or stealing to obtain fentanyl.
  • Erratic mood swings.
  • Avoiding friends, family, and activities you used to enjoy.
  • Experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms without fentanyl.
  • Using other drugs and alcohol when you’re taking fentanyl.
  • Changes in appetite, weight, self-care, and personal hygiene.
  • Feeling confused or foggy a lot of the time.

Becoming defensive if others suggest you have a problem with fentanyl.

Where Do You Get Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction?

Opioids like fentanyl are highly addictive and dangerous. Most people need intensive medical interventions and behavioral therapy to stay sober. Some people need the assistance of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to ease cravings so they can focus on opioid addiction treatment. Drug rehab will typically begin with drug and alcohol detox. During this period, you’ll receive 24/7 care from medical professionals who will help you safely eliminate opioids and other substances from your body. They’ll ease your withdrawal symptoms with medications and make sure you’re safe and as comfortable as possible.  Following detox from fentanyl, many people benefit from inpatient rehab at an addiction treatment center. This gives you space away from triggers while you attend substance abuse treatment during the day and live in residences with others in your program. After residential treatment, transitioning to outpatient rehab before fully re-entering everyday life can help prevent relapse.  Vogue Recovery Center provides evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder in comfortable, home-like settings. Our staff are passionate about their work and your recovery. We are accredited, trauma-focused, and offer evidence-based addiction and dual diagnosis treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling, call us for a free, confidential consultation. We’ll chat about what’s going on with you, tell you about our programs, and help you determine if your insurance covers rehab.

References

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html#:~:text=The%20first%20wave%20began%20with,overdose%20deaths%20involving%20heroin4
  3. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Synthetic%20Opioids-2020.pdf
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/fentanyl
  6. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Fentanyl-2020_0.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5577861/
  8. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  9. https://www.bu.edu/aodhealth/2020/12/28/fentanyl-and-norfentanyl-detected-in-urine-for-7-or-more-days-after-regular-use/
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
  11. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/03/07/concerns-about-heart-health-amid-the-opioid-meth-epidemic
  12. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2020-01-24-opioid-dependence-found-to-permanently-change-brains-of-rats.aspx
  13. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2020-01-24-opioid-dependence-found-to-permanently-change-brains-of-rats.aspx
  14. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23717-4
  15. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2019.02914/full

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