What You Should Know About the Synthetic Opioid Fentanyl

top view of black chalk board with lettering fentanyl

In recent years, fentanyl has emerged as one of the most dangerous drugs available. Along with other opioids, it has fueled the worst drug crisis in United States history.

Originally prescribed for the relief of extreme pain, fentanyl’s extreme potency and growing availability have had a catastrophic impact. In 2022, preliminary data showed that, of the 107,081 drug overdose deaths reported in the US, 68% were linked to synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly produced fentanyl.

If you or a loved one are impacted by fentanyl addiction, understanding the drug is crucial to seeking the right treatment to break free and regain control of your life. 

Since it opened its doors, Tikvah Lake has been successfully treating opioid use disorder (OUD), and our expert clinicians can ensure you or a loved one achieve lasting recovery. In this article, we’ll provide a clear overview of fentanyl, along with its long-term effects, overdose symptoms, and best treatments for addiction recovery.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller similar to morphine but 50–100 times stronger. When it was originally developed for pain management in the 1960s, it was prescribed as an intravenous anesthetic. 

Over time, fentanyl’s applications expanded to the management of severe chronic pain, or as a component in surgical anesthesia. Given its potency, it’s often reserved for patients who are opioid-tolerant, or those with pain that is unresponsive to weaker drugs.

On a molecular level, opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord known as opioid receptors. Fentanyl’s particular molecular structure allows it to bind very tightly to these receptors, leading to a much stronger effect even in small amounts.

Why fentanyl can be so dangerous

Due to its high potency, fentanyl can be deadly when used outside of a medical setting or when mixed with other drugs. Even a tiny amount can lead to respiratory depression (the primary cause of death in opioid overdoses). This danger is magnified since many aren’t even aware they’re consuming fentanyl. 

Illicit drug manufacturers often mix fentanyl with other drugs (like heroin or cocaine) to amplify their effects. However, due to its strength, even slight miscalculations in mixing or dosing can lead to lethal consequences for users.

Unsurprisingly, fentanyl’s potency makes it an attractive option for illicit drug traffickers. Because only a small amount is needed to produce a large number of doses, it is easy to smuggle and more profitable.

What’s more, the fact that fentanyl can be synthesized in labs eliminates the need for cultivating drug crops like heroin. This has led to an increase in its production (often in clandestine labs abroad) and proliferation in the US market. The ease of transporting fentanyl – given that a small amount can be mixed with a larger quantity of fillers – facilitates its illicit spread, contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Fentanyl’s role in the US opioid crisis

The opioid crisis in the United States has reached catastrophic proportions. Since the start of the new millennium, there have been over a million drug overdose deaths. These have predominantly been due to opioids, with fentanyl being the main antagonist

Originating from overprescription practices, this crisis has been further intensified by the influx of drugs from foreign drug cartels.

One alarming aspect of the epidemic is the sheer scale of devastation. The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant part, bearing witness to a spike in solo use that elevated overdose risks. 

Moreover, cartels have started disguising fentanyl as other prescription opioids, leading to an uptick in fatal incidents.

Depressed Female Soldier In Uniform Suffering With PTSD Sitting On Kitchen Floor On Home Leave

The demographic most affected by opioid overdoses consists of non-Hispanic white Americans, accounting for nearly 70% of the yearly total in 2020. Military veterans, due to their susceptibility to chronic pain from service injuries, are at an exceptionally high risk, being twice as likely to succumb to opioid overdose than the general public.

The economic fallout is equally devastating. In 2020, the opioid epidemic cost the US nearly $1.5 trillion, equivalent to 7% of the nation’s GDP. The workforce hasn’t been spared either, with around 20% of the 6.3 million missing workers in 2022 being attributed to opioid use.

It is only by raising awareness about the dangers of opioids like fentanyl, and ensuring those affected receive the treatment they need, that we can begin to curb this crisis. 

Brand names of fentanyl

Fentanyl is marketed under various brand names depending on the country and the form in which it’s administered. Some of the most common names include:

Duragesic – Patch commonly used for chronic pain management.

Actiq – Lozenge on a stick (often referred to as a “lollipop”) intended for breakthrough pain in cancer patients.

Sublimaze – Injectable form of fentanyl often used in hospitals, especially during surgery.

Fentora – Tablet form.

Abstral – Fast-acting sublingual tablet.

Lazanda – Nasal spray.

Remember, there are also many generic versions of fentanyl which may be marketed under other names or simply as “fentanyl.” Always consult with a healthcare professional about medications and ensure you’re aware of what you are taking and the correct dosage.

Street names for fentanyl 

  • Great Bear
  • He-Man
  • Tango & Cash
  • Murder 8
  • Goodfellas
  • Apace
  • China Girl
  • Dance Fever
  • Poison
  • King Ivory
  • Jackpot
  • China Town
  • Friend

What are the signs of fentanyl overdose?

woman having difficulty with concentration

A fentanyl overdose can be life-threatening, so it’s essential to recognize the signs and seek emergency medical attention immediately. The common signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose are:

  • Slow, shallow, or stopped breathing (respiratory depression). This is one of the most dangerous symptoms and a leading cause of death from opioid overdose.
  • Pinpoint (constricted) pupils.
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness. A person might not wake up or respond to external stimuli.
  • Limp body.
  • Pale or clammy face.
  • Blue or purple color to lips or fingernails (from lack of oxygen).
  • Slow or stopped heartbeat.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Extreme drowsiness or inability to stay awake.
  • Confusion.
  • Dizziness.

If you suspect someone is experiencing a fentanyl overdose, it’s crucial to call 911 immediately. 

While waiting for emergency services:

  • Administer naloxone (Narcan) if available and you are trained to do so. Naloxone is a medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
  • Try to keep the person awake.
  • If the person is unconscious or not breathing, initiate CPR.

Fentanyl overdoses can progress rapidly due to the drug’s high potency, so time is of the essence. Always consult with healthcare professionals about any medical symptoms or emergencies.

Understanding the long-term health effects of fentanyl addiction

Potential health risks of prolonged fentanyl or opioid consumption include:

  • Breathing complications during sleep.
  • Chronic constipation that can escalate to grave conditions like bowel obstruction.
  • Reduced function of the immune system.
  • Elevated risk of heart attack and heart failure.
  • Potential fractures, especially in older adults.
  • Disturbances in hormonal balance that can cause reproductive complications.
  • Emergence of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Over time, those using fentanyl or other opioids may develop a tolerance. This can result in them increasing dosage or frequency to achieve the desired effect. 

Such tolerance escalation heightens the possibility of opioid dependence. 

Consequently, abrupt cessation can trigger withdrawal symptoms. 

Notably, even when opioids are used for legitimate medical reasons, tolerance and dependence can manifest, often leading to addiction.

The devastating impact of opioid addiction

Developing a sense of trust

While undeniably more dangerous, the impact of fentanyl addiction is similar to all opioid addictions. This varies from person to person, but there are commonly seen psychological, social, and behavioral effects, including:

  • Uncontrolled consumption despite understanding its adverse effects on physical, mental, or emotional health.
  • Increased opioid consumption or prolonged usage beyond intended limits.
  • Repeated failures in fulfilling home, work, or school responsibilities due to opioid influence.
  • Engaging in high-risk activities, like driving under opioid influence.
  • Strained relationships attributed to persistent opioid usage.
  • Sacrificing significant hobbies or activities in favor of opioid consumption.
  • Extensive periods spent in acquiring, using, or recovering from opioids.
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit or reduce opioid intake.
  • Experiencing intense cravings for opioids.

Treatments for fentanyl addiction

Because fentanyl addiction is a subset of opioid use disorder (OUD), treatments that are effective for the latter are also applicable to the former. Below is an overview of some approaches with evidence of efficacy:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment is known to be a highly effective and often essential approach for tackling opioid use disorders. By integrating medications (such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies, MAT offers a well-rounded solution to fentanyl addiction. 

Tikvah Lake has medical professionals on hand to ensure you can be treated safely and securely. Upon arrival at our center, an assessment awaits to ascertain if detox is a crucial first step for you. After gauging your unique situation, our team will lay out the best path forward. If detox is recommended, it becomes your foundational step before moving into deeper rehabilitation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT equips you with the skills to recognize and confront addiction triggers, manage stress, and cope with cravings. Research shows it to be one of the most effective treatments for substance use disorders, including fentanyl.

CBT is a central pillar of Tikvah Lake’s approach to addiction. Our trained therapists employ individualized CBT sessions, tailoring interventions to meet your specific needs and challenges.

The 12 Steps 

Engaging in a 12-step program can offer you or a loved one a structured pathway to overcome opioid addiction. Rooted in peer support and personal accountability, this approach allows you to understand the depth of your addiction, connect with a higher purpose, and rely on a supportive community. 

By following the steps, you’ll embark on a journey of self-reflection, making amends, and continuous personal growth. The camaraderie and structured guidance of the 12-step program can offer you the consistent support necessary to navigate your recovery, helping you build resilience against relapse.

At Tikvah Lake, we often introduce the 12 Steps to people staying with us. That being said, we also realize they aren’t for everyone, hence why all our treatment plans are highly personalized.

Residential and Inpatient treatment

Residential treatment is often seen as a crucial intervention, especially for those battling severe addiction and/or co-occurring mental health disorders. By providing a structured environment – away from potential triggers and daily stressors – you’re better able to focus solely on your recovery. 

Tikvah Lake’s residential program is methodically structured into three phases. The first is orientation-focused, the second delves deeper into therapeutic interventions, and the final phase is centered on reintegration, preparing you for a transition back into society. Collectively, these phases aim to equip you with the tools and mindset required for lasting recovery.

Holistic Treatment

Group of young people practicing yoga In the prayer position and raised hands while sitting on mat at gym, Concept of relaxation and meditation

Holistic treatments offer a comprehensive approach to addiction recovery, addressing not only the physical aspects but also your emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions. This approach recognizes that fentanyl addiction impacts every facet of your life. 

Instead of merely focusing on symptoms or specific behaviors, holistic modalities delve deeper, aiming to restore balance in your entire being. Many studies have revealed this approach is often the missing key to achieving lasting sobriety. 

Knowing this, Tikvah Lake seamlessly integrates holistic wellness into your treatment process. We incorporate practices like meditation and yoga, which promote mindfulness and help you foster a deeper connection with yourself. This can help reduce factors like stress and anxiety that can lead to relapse. 

Additionally, we emphasize the importance of nutrition and physical health, as well as the value of therapies like Reiki to rebalance your internal energies. 

Reach out to Tikvah Lake today

There is no question: fentanyl addiction negatively impacts every facet of a person’s life. Having treated opioid addiction for many years, we’ve developed an acute understanding of which treatments are the most beneficial and effective.

Nestled in a tranquil luxury setting, Tikvah Lake provides an oasis away from everyday stressors; a safe haven run by passionate addiction experts who’ll provide you with all the resources needed to achieve lasting recovery. 

Knowing that every addiction recovery journey is different, our personalized treatment programs are tailored to your unique situation. Ultimately, our commitment to bespoke care, combined with our luxury setting and holistic ethos, positions us as your ideal partner in recovery from fentanyl addiction.

If you or a loved one is facing challenges with fentanyl addiction or OUD, Tikvah Lake Recovery is here to help. Reach out to us today for a confidential chat with one of our addiction treatment specialists.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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