Fentanyl — pronounced FEN-ta-nil — is an opiate. Opiates are intensely potent medications that doctors can legally prescribe for the treatment of ongoing and chronic pain. Administered under medical supervision, these powerful drugs can be extremely beneficial for relieving pain, especially after surgery or injury.
However, they are also extremely habit-forming, resulting in powerful addictions that can be difficult to break. Read on to learn more about Fentanyl, including how it leads to addiction and how you can get the help you need to overcome it.
Opiates suppress the brain’s perception of pain and create a feeling of comfort and exultation. This extreme feeling of pleasure makes opiate prescriptions easily habit-forming. In fact, they are notorious for being one of the most addictive classes of drugs when used improperly.
Users of opiates, including Codeine, Vicodin, Morphine, OxyContin and Fentanyl, can quickly develop a tolerance to the drug. When this occurs, an ever-increasing amount is required to achieve the same sensation.
Addiction to opiates is widespread, affecting people from all walks of life. Statistics from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) are staggering: Of the 22,767 deaths relating to pharmaceutical overdose in 2013, 71.3% involved opioid pain relievers. In 2014, the National Institute of Drug Abuse revealed that over two million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
How Fentanyl Addiction Occurs
Fentanyl is often abused for its heroin-like effect. Why do so many individuals become addicted to this drug? It turns out that addiction is a powerful biological response. When the body ingests opioids, the sudden rush of pleasure is stronger than what is normally experienced. This sensation of euphoria can quickly turn into a need for more.
Researchers who focus on addiction explain the process of an “opiate high” in the following steps:
- The chemicals in opiates travel through the bloodstream and infiltrate the brain.
- The brain then pumps out high levels of a neurotransmitter that has been linked to the feelings of ecstasy and excitement.
- The result is an excessive feeling of pleasure, even euphoria.
- Once experienced, the brain may repeatedly seek this feeling of extreme elation and, if not monitored, use of opiates can spiral out of control.
Is Fentanyl a Controlled Substance?
Fentanyl, a fast-acting narcotic, is primarily prescribed for “breakthrough pain.” Breakthrough pain is temporary pain that goes through the opiate barrier when a person is consuming an opiate. This leads to additional, temporary pain relief being required.
As a narcotic, Fentanyl is considered to be a controlled substance. In the United States, these types of drugs are classified into “schedules” based on:
- Their medical use in treatment.
- Their relative abuse potential.
- The likelihood of causing dependence when used.
Fentanyl is classified as a schedule II prescription drug. This means it has a high potential for abuse and is prescribed only under severe restrictions and parameters. When a doctor prescribes Fentanyl, there should be close, regular monitoring of the patient to ensure the drug is used properly and only when needed.
Fentanyl is such an intensely powerful painkiller that it carries a “black box warning.” This is the strictest warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prescription drugs. It is only required on medications when there is credible evidence of serious and harmful potential associated with the drug. In the case of Fentanyl, the black-box warning refers to its “potential for addiction, abuse and misuse which can lead to overdose and death.”
According the National Institute of Drug Abuse, here is what else you should know about Fentanyl:
- Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
- It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.
- As with other opioids, Fentanyl creates a state of euphoria and relaxation by acting on specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord to decrease the feeling of pain and reduce the emotional response to pain.
- Fentanyl is available in a number of forms: skin patches, lozenges, pills, shots, films that dissolve in the mouth, nasal sprays and IVs.
As mentioned, Fentanyl is available in a number of different delivery systems. This allows it to be administered to a wide variety of patients suffering from pain. Some people have trouble swallowing pills, some have mouth and oral issues, and some are adverse to needles.
According to medical experts, it is vital to understand that these different forms are not interchangeable. Your medical professional will prescribe a specific method for delivering Fentanyl to your body. The delivery system should never been substituted or replaced with another form unless authorized by a physician.
The different forms of Fentanyl include:
||Fentanyl patches — The patch form of Fentanyl is used to relieve severe pain in people who are expected to need pain medication around the clock for an extended amount of time. This potent patch is placed on the skin, and a new patch is usually required every 72 hours or as directed by a doctor.
||Fentanyl lozenges — This oral option is used for adults with breakthrough pain, and it should not be used in patients younger than 16 years of age. Some medical professionals will also prescribe a “lollipop” form of this drug.
||Fentanyl pills/tablets — Tablets are placed in the mouth to dissolve, which usually takes about 25 minutes. It is important not to bite, chew, break, suck or swallow the tablet whole. However, if a portion of the tablet is still left after half an hour, read the directions. It is likely that the remaining portion can be swallowed with a glass of water.
||Fentanyl shots — The shot form of Fentanyl is used to relieve severe pain during and after surgery. It is also used with other medicines just before or during an operation to increase the performance of the anesthetic. This injection, like other shots, is injected into a muscle or vein.
||Fentanyl dissolving films — A film is placed inside the mouth with the “pink” medicated side facing against one cheek. The film usually dissolves in 30 minutes or less.
||Fentanyl nasal spray — This form of Fentanyl is a liquid that is sprayed in the nose. It is used as needed to treat breakthrough pain, but should not be used more often than four times per day.
||Fentanyl intravenous drips — Fentanyl in IV form is administered only in a medical setting. The drug is added to an intravenous fluid that drips through a needle or catheter placed in the vein. Fentanyl is used pre- and post-surgery for breakthrough pain. In IV form, Fentanyl is available to physicians in five strengths, which deliver fentanyl at different rates, ranging from 12 micrograms per hour to 100 mcg/hour.
Can Fentanyl Patches Be Abused?
Many patients believe that the Fentanyl patch is a safer option than pills, lozenges or other delivery systems. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fentanyl patches can be abused, and individuals can become easily addicted to them.
The misuse of Fentanyl patches became so severe, that at one point, the FDA issued a rare Public Health Advisory to doctors and patients about the problems being experienced by people using the patch. The FDA referred to the fact that by 2005, over 120 people using the patch had died.
They commented, “The Fentanyl patch is only indicated for use in patients with persistent, moderate to severe chronic pain who have been taking a regular, daily, around-the-clock narcotic pain medicine for longer than a week and are considered to be opioid-tolerant.”
According to the FDA, “the directions for using the Fentanyl skin patch must be followed exactly to prevent death or other serious side effects from overdosing with Fentanyl.”
Some who become addicted find creative ways to abuse Fentanyl patches. They try wearing more than one patch with the intention of further reducing pain or obtaining a stronger “high,” which can be fatal.
The Serious Symptoms of Fentanyl Misuse
The main signs of Fentanyl abuse and addiction — regardless of the form of delivery — include:
- Respiratory trouble
- Tiredness or extreme sleepiness
- Trouble concentrating or thinking rationally
- Difficulty talking
- Inability to walk normally
- Signs of confusion or dizziness
Mixing Fentanyl with alcohol, heroin or cocaine escalates the potentially severe and deadly side effects. These include:
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- An overpowering sense of sedation that can lead to coma
- Severe respiratory issues
One of the most disturbing side effects of a Fentanyl overdose relates to the suppression of normal respiratory function. Like many opioids, Fentanyl causes drowsiness followed by respiratory depression. Breathing slows, then simply stops. An addict that overdoses on Fentanyl may go to sleep and just never wake up.
The amount of Fentanyl that can lead to an overdose varies widely depending on the size, weight, height and other physical factors of the individual. Overdose levels also differ based on how much of the drug is used on a daily basis and the tolerance the individual has developed.
If you or a loved one is involved in an overdose event, immediate medical attention is required. Naloxone is considered to be an antidote for Fentanyl overdoses and, if provided quickly, can help temporarily reverse the most dangerous symptoms.
Fentanyl Withdrawal: How Long Can Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?
As with any opiate, ending the addiction takes a very courageous and difficult first step — Fentanyl is no different. When an addict begins the process, he or she will likely experience these initial withdrawal symptoms:
- Alternating between chills and hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Muscle pain and cramping
- Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and diarrhea
- Irritability and confusion
- Loss of appetite
Unlike some other medications, Fentanyl withdrawal must be done in stages and should not be accomplished “cold turkey” or all at once. This is referred to as “tapering.”
Tapering is a medical process that lowers the amount of the drug until the body no longer suffers from withdrawal symptoms, and there are no longer concerns of serious side effects. This is why professional supervision is absolutely essential when undergoing the detoxification process from Fentanyl.
Withdrawal from any medication that has been abused can be a difficult journey. The duration of Fentanyl withdrawal is based on a number of different factors, including how much of the opiate is abused daily, how long the addiction has been going on, the amount of tolerance, etc.
Initial withdrawal symptoms usually appear within a day and last anywhere from several days to several weeks. While a difficult process, the results are well worth enduring the preliminary discomfort on the road to a sober lifestyle.
Recovering From Fentanyl and Opiate Addiction
At 12 Keys Rehab, we understand that taking the first step to end your addiction is difficult. We will work with you to assure your journey to recovery is given individual care and attention.
Our holistic program focuses on recovery through a combination of science, spirit, body and family. We have developed the exclusive 12 Keys "real recovery" approach to client care that features personal support, one-on-one assistance and individualized programs.
At 12 Keys, we also believe that long-term recovery requires ample time for reflection. Our facility in Florida includes relaxing porches, serene docks and a multitude of quiet places to contemplate your future. Our spectacular waterfront location also offers the opportunity for fun activities including kayaking, fishing, beach volleyball, golf, horseback riding, movies, bowling and more. The physical exercise will help you maintain your focus on recovery and the excitement will rejuvenate your mental energy.
Family and Aftercare Options
Many of our clients find life outside rehab challenging. Our program does not end when you walk outside our doors. Our staff is committed to providing you with a customized aftercare plan and will help support you long after you leave our facility. Our team of compassionate addiction specialists is dedicated to guiding you towards a life filled with happiness.
With your individualized aftercare plan, you’ll experience practical recovery with strong support and follow-up. Our clients and families leave our property with the tools and resources they need to start a healthy lifestyle.
Our aftercare program also encourages recovering addicts to build supportive relationships with others who have traveled similar life paths. Understanding that you are part of a community supports your long-term success.
The 12 Keys program goes beyond the individual seeking help. Family involvement and participation is a crucial part of the process at 12 Keys Rehab where counseling, literature and aftercare for relatives is available and encouraged.
Get Started on Your Journey to Lifelong Sobriety Today
12 Keys Rehab provides a safe, accepting environment that nourishes your mind, body and soul with empathy and support. We’ll motivate you and help you experience a long, healthy life maintaining your sobriety. Contact us today to get started on your journey to a healthier, more rewarding life.
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