The rise in opioid deaths has reached epidemic levels during the past several years, but as of late, we have seen a spike in users suffering from fatal overdoses. This crisis has reached levels once unfathomable, but they have become the new norm in our society. A recently released poll showed that Americans living in rural areas are profoundly worried about the opioid crisis. One-quarter of the residents polled suggested that opioid and other drug abuse is the biggest problem facing their communities.
With the problem so widespread, it’s no surprise that it is having an effect like this on our economy. Opioid addiction is costing the country $500 billion a year. There were about 71,568 drug overdose deaths from January 2017 to January 2018. These numbers increased 33 percent in Nebraska and 24 percent in New Jersey. These startling statistics show that the problem has become increasingly worse with time, and there is no end in sight.
This increase in opioid consumption can take the blame from many angles. It began with pharmaceutical companies ensuring that prescribing opioids would not get the user hooked. This, in turn, opened the floodgates for doctors to start overprescribing opioids at historic levels.
Once the government intervened and created new policies with regards to prescribing, those already hooked found other ways to obtain their drugs. This push led many individuals to purchase their pills illegally on the black market. The huge costs they incurred later would move them on to heroin.
A cheaper alternative has since moved into the black market opioid scene called fentanyl. While the drug has been around to treat severe pain and those with a physical tolerance to other opioids, it has more recently been flowing into the country from Mexico.
It is being synthesized in clandestine labs and moved north as a cheaper alternative to the already deadly heroin. This has largely increased deaths from overdoses when someone is not expecting the strength of fentanyl. It has been cut with bags of heroin to boost profits for dealers as well. This, in part, has contributed to overdose deaths on a national scale.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar in chemical structure to morphine. The main difference? Fentanyl is 50 times to 100 times stronger than morphine and one of the most potent drugs on the market. When physicians administer the drug, it is typically done intravenously or via a transdermal patch. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold as powder or spiked on a blotter paper. The drug is unique in that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. People who have severe chronic pain can have high success rates of diminishing pain with fentanyl patches.
Fentanyl is so strong that medical professionals carefully manage patients with tiny doses. As mentioned previously, it is significantly more potent than other opioids available. Synthetic opioids are created with the sole purpose of being much stronger than the natural derivatives from the opium poppy. Another reason for this is cost efficiency. Carfentanil, a fentanyl analog that is said to be 10,000 times stronger than heroin and is used to treat elephants, is another deadly synthetic opioid that was never intended for human use.
Like other opioids, fentanyl affects the central nervous system (CNS) in a similar fashion. The body produces natural opioid receptors that are responsible for blocking pain in the body. When fentanyl enters the bloodstream, it creates the same effect as other opioids—the only difference is the strength. It will induce feelings of relaxation, pain relief, and euphoria for the user. These feelings are what create the desire to continue using the drug even after their pain has subsided.
Fentanyl addiction is much of what you’d expect to find with other opioids, but due to the strength of the substance, the addiction can be much more severe. The early phases of a fentanyl addiction may be harder to spot, but over time as the severity of the addiction increases, the signs will become more apparent. To recognize these symptoms in either you or a loved one, you must become familiar with what they are.
The first stages of addiction start with an increased tolerance to the drug and grow more serious as the body becomes more dependent on the substance. Tolerance suggests your body has become used to the drug and that the brain requires it for balancing its chemistry. When tolerance grows, the body will experience intense cravings or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the substance is absent from the body. This is a strong indicator that you have developed an addiction to fentanyl.
There are withdrawal symptoms that are exclusive to opioids like fentanyl. The drugs affect pain detection all over the body which could, in turn, be felt throughout the body. This could feel like symptoms of the flu. Some of these include:
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An addiction is defined as compulsive drug use despite any consequences attributed to the drug. For example, if you’re arrested because of drug use but continue to use, this could mean you’ve developed an addiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you love has developed a drug addiction, look for the following signs:
The potency of fentanyl makes it one of the most dangerous substances in existence. Those who receive a bag of heroin laced with fentanyl can instantly overdose if they are not used to the strength of the drug. This has been the main concern about fentanyl. In most cases, as little as 2 milligrams to 3 milligrams of fentanyl can cause adverse reactions. To put it into perspective, this is the weight of a small snowflake.
During a fentanyl overdose, the drug will suppress the nervous system to the point of near death. The nervous system becomes impaired to a point where an individual is nearly suffocated due to slowed breathing. This can cause brain damage, coma, unconsciousness, and death.
Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl are not deadly, but they can be extremely uncomfortable. As mentioned previously, symptoms range from flu-like symptoms to extreme body aches. This is not deadly, but the discomfort can make the person relapse to escape the pain.
Treatment for substance abuse and addiction begins with detox. When someone has consumed drugs on a regular basis, they require medical detoxification to remove the drug from their systems safely. While opioid withdrawal is not dangerous, it is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to do on your own. Health care professionals will administer medication to deal with the worst symptoms during what is considered the toughest stage of treatment.
The team of of trained medical professionals will determine the next stage in the continuum of care. You will meet with therapists that will help create a personalized treatment plan that is unique to your specific needs.
Treatment will include behavioral therapies such as group therapy, family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will identify your triggers, and teach you how to cope with the temptations that will be faced outside of treatment. You will create relapse prevention strategies that help make treatment useful for a lifetime.
In 2016, 42,249 drug overdose deaths involved opioids.