We’ve talked about fentanyl before—and honestly, we can’t talk about it enough. More than 107,000 people died in 2021 from overdosing on synthetic opioids, the class that includes fentanyl. The most alarming part is that this substance is now in the street drug supply, making a bad situation even worse. People going through one form of addiction may not even be aware that they’re taking something else, which can have devastating consequences. Whether you or a loved one is dealing with addiction, knowing how people come in contact with fentanyl and how it’s used and abused can be life-saving.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a quick-acting synthetic opioid that was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1968. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), it was originally developed in 1959 as a pain management option for cancer patients.
Since the drug is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, it has a high level of abuse potential and currently stands among the more deadly prescription drugs available today. Fentanyl is known to cause side effects ranging in severity, from an intense, short-term high, to fainting and seizures.
There are two types of fentanyl:
- The pharmaceutical form that is prescribed by a health care professional
- The illicitly manufactured one that commonly finds its way to the streets.
Illicit usage became common in the 1970s and has since become a major contributor to the national opioid epidemic.
Why are drugs laced with fentanyl?
Many fatal drug overdoses are not the result of direct fentanyl use, but of the use of drugs that have been laced with it. Many illicit drug makers use fentanyl for different reasons. In some cases, they use additives to stretch their supply and maximize their profits. For example, it is often added to hard drugs, like heroin, to increase their potency. Fentanyl can also be mixed with other drugs, like methamphetamines or cocaine, then pressed into pills to mimic common prescription opioids.
People unknowingly buy laced drugs, which has resulted in an increasing number of overdose deaths. Tampering with the supply has made street drugs more dangerous, more affordable, and more powerful. And if someone is using prescription opioids in addition to illicit fentanyl, they’re a dangerous—or even lethal—dosage.
Fentanyl comes in various forms, including lozenges, sprays, patches, and injections, which can make accidental ingestion even more common. It is virtually undetectable when added to different drugs, meaning its look, smell, and taste will all seem normal. This can result in fatal consequences for casual drug users who may be unaware of what they are ingesting. However, there are currently fentanyl testing strips on the market that can help determine whether certain drugs contain fentanyl.
How does fentanyl kill you?
Fentanyl is an extremely potent drug, so it doesn’t take much before life-threatening side effects can occur. In fact, most fentanyl deaths are purely accidental. Many users underestimate the effects of fentanyl or are unaware that they have ingested it at all.
While the drug can indeed produce feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and sedation, users may also experience nausea and vomiting, respiratory depression, confusion, or seizures. If taken in even seemingly small doses, it can result in death.
It’s important to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose so you can take quick action when someone is in danger. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these signs include constricted pupils, slow or shallow breathing, vomiting, a faint heartbeat, pale skin, and purple lips.
The dangers of fentanyl and other opioids may be lurking in your own home. One of the most common ways people gain access to opioids, like fentanyl, is through a family member or friend’s medicine cabinet. This is why it is so important that everyone takes extra precautions and keeps medicine chests locked at all times.
Witnessing a fentanyl overdose can be terrifying, but there are steps you can take that may be
able to help you save a life. These include dialing 911 immediately, administering naloxone, keeping the person awake, laying them on their side to prevent choking, and staying with them until emergency personnel arrive on the scene.
Ophelia is here to help with addiction treatment
If you or someone close to you has been affected by fentanyl addiction and would like to explore methods of treatment, there are myriad opioid addiction resources available online. Ophelia offers a secure telehealth experience for people seeking medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
It starts with a simple phone consultation so we understand your needs. Then, we’ll match you with a care team and set up virtual sessions in the privacy and comfort of home. We combine Suboxone®-based treatment with clinical and social support for a truly customized approach. Visit us online to get started.