The U.S. is currently facing one of the worst drug crises it’s ever experienced. The Baltimore Sun even dubbed it the fentanyl epidemic. Even though doctors have stopped overprescribing opioids, the death rates caused by these drugs are still so significant that it caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lower American life expectancy for the third year in a row.
Shockingly, opioid deaths are still underreported, but in 2017, heroin contributed to 15,482 deaths. We know that most heroin users started out abusing prescription opioids.
In 2017, there were 70,237 fatal drug overdoses, which was the worst year on record. More Americans died of fatal opioid overdoses during 2016 and 2017 than from injuries incurred in the Vietnam war. 28,466 of these deaths were caused by fentanyl.
Despite these staggering statistics, there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of narcotics being prescribed by doctors. The state of Florida has implemented laws that prevent doctors from administering opioid prescriptions that last longer than seven days. While this program has led to a significant reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions, it will still take time to learn about its long-term effects.
While fewer prescription opioids are being prescribed, the addictions they’ve caused don’t automatically disappear, so users may turn to illegal methods for purchasing them. This lack of access to medication can result in fentanyl use.
Since drug dealers have such easy access to fentanyl, they’ve started lacing heroin with it. While this cheaper alternative has increased their profits, it’s created a game of Russian roulette for users. Since such small amounts can be fatal, the influx of fentanyl use has caused grave concerns about ways to fight this epidemic. Since fentanyl is one of the most potent medications in existence, users with a low tolerance to opioids may immediately overdose.
What is Fentanyl?
Originally, fentanyl was intended to be a last resort for people suffering from severe chronic pain.
At that time, it was used under the supervision of medical professionals, but since then, it’s become an illicit street drug. It can also be an effective painkiller during labor, as it can start working in less than ten minutes.
Fentanyl works in a fashion similar to other opioids in the central nervous system (CNS). The natural opioids in our bodies known as endorphins are supposed to block the transmission of pain by binding to receptors at the site of origin. Opioids are much stronger, and they’re intended to mimic the effects of these receptors. Fentanyl is the only opioid that has a high transdermal bioavailability, which means it can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.
What are the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction?
With fentanyl, overdose is the #1 concern, as it’s usually consumed without the user’s knowledge. Since even a small amount can cause someone to overdose, someone who’s tolerant to a drug like heroin may find themselves fighting for their lives if they consume an entire bag laced with fentanyl. Users who purposely take fentanyl cite say they enjoy the euphoria, which is the reason why they keep spiraling deeper into addiction.
The first step in addiction involves the body getting used to the drug and counteracting it to balance out brain chemistry. As the tolerance keeps growing, you can begin developing a dependence on the drug. At this point, you can experience cravings or intense withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop using it.
The final step is the compulsive use of the drug, despite consequences. For instance, if you keep using fentanyl despite overdosing and being hospitalized, you’re probably addicted.
Here are the Behavioral Signs of a Fentanyl Addiction:
- Trying to stop using, despite repeat attempts
- Exhibiting reckless behavior
- Having obsessive thoughts
- Lying about drug use
- Hiding drugs around the house
- Losing interest in normal activities
- Experiencing strange sleep patterns
- Being irritable
How is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?
Addiction treatment is administered in phases, which begins at the most intensive level and gradually decreases. Withdrawal from fentanyl use isn’t as deadly as withdrawal from other drugs, but it can be extremely uncomfortable, which can cause users to give up on treatment. Therefore, medical detoxification is necessary when treating these symptoms. It will give the client round-the-clock access to addiction specialists and ensure that nothing out of the ordinary occurs.
After detox is complete, the patient will be released into the next level of care that’s best suited for their needs. Addiction is a complex disease that requires a tailored plan that makes sure each need is met. Therapists will also assist in creating a program that specifically addresses these needs.
Addiction treatment includes behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, which will address the root cause of the addiction. These sessions will encourage patients to discuss triggers, so they’ll develop tactics to deal with them after treatment has ended.
Fentanyl Abuse Statistics
- Of the 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, the sharpest increase involved fentanyl and its analogs.
- In 2017, synthetic opioids accounted for 29,406 deaths.
- Between 2007 and 2017, fatal opioid overdoses increased by 100%.