Perhaps carfentanil made you experience the worst withdrawal experience of your entire life, filled with vivid nightmares, profuse sweating, sleepless days, and debilitating pain. Many people do not survive carfentanil exposure. Why?
The synthetic opioid is one of the deadliest substances in existence. Just a trace amount resembling a few grains of salt is lethal enough to kill you. Carfentanil’s primary medical use is as a tranquilizer for elephants and other large mammals. It is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. By the way, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.
Despite its potency, carfentanil can be easily produced in a laboratory and is cheap compared to other substances of abuse. Thus, drug dealers add it to heroin, cocaine, and certain pills to endow those substances with added potency.
Sadly, most people who have been exposed to carfentanil do not even know it. Repeated exposure, however, is enough to produce an abrupt and fatal overdose.
With carfentanil, death is often just one encounter away.
It cannot be emphasized enough just how deadly this cheaply produced synthetic opioid is. When rebel soldiers stormed a Moscow theater and trapped more than 800 people for almost 60 hours in 2002, Russian troops released a gas into the area that contained carfentanil. The gas incapacitated the rebel soldiers but also killed more than 120 hostages.
“As the then-unknown gas filled the theater, hostages and rebels alike passed out or died immediately. Russian officers dragged everyone out and packed both living and dead hostages onto the same buses and cars,” wrote David Satter, a journalist who covered the incident.
Another testament to carfentanil’s lethality was the 2016 U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) warning to the public and law enforcement about accidental exposure to the substance.
“We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous. Synthetics such as fentanyl and carfentanil can kill you. I hope our first responders — and the public — will read and heed our health and safety warning. These men and women have remarkably difficult jobs, and we need them to be well and healthy,” said the DEA’s acting administrator at the time.
In whatever drug people use, whether that is heroin or cocaine, dealers will add trace amounts of carfentanil to it, increasing the likelihood that someone will get hooked. The withdrawal symptoms from carfentanil are extremely intense.
One Reddit contributor described carfentanil withdrawal as “probably some of the most painful things you will ever experience.”
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
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The actual withdrawal timeline for carfentanil, or any other opioid for that matter, will vary from person to person. Particular factors that influence the duration of withdrawal and detox include:
The following should be considered a general timeline of carfentanil withdrawal:
Withdrawal symptoms can start about six hours after your last dose. The early withdrawal effects will manifest as flu-like symptoms. You will start experiencing nausea, sweating, and body aches. You will feel agitated, anxious, and restless.
During this phase, the body aches, muscle spasms, shaking, diarrhea, and intense cravings will peak. The physical symptoms will start to diminish after Day 3, but the psychological symptoms and cravings will linger on.
DAYS 4-2 WEEKS
After the withdrawal symptoms have hit their peak, some symptoms will endure, lasting for the first couple of weeks. The common symptoms at this stage are chills, cravings, depression, and fatigue.
UP TO 2 MONTHS
Opioid withdrawal symptoms typically linger for weeks or even months. The duration will likely be determined by how long and how much someone has abused opioids. The symptoms that tend to linger include depression, insomnia, anxiety, cravings, and apathy.
Attempting to stop any opioid on your own, including carfentanil, is a dangerous endeavor. Why? Because opioids are profoundly addictive and have this unique ability to rewire the brain. So much so that a person who abuses opioids will only feel normal when the drug is in their bodies. The minute that drug leaves, intense, debilitating symptoms occur, along with powerful cravings. These effects will compel someone to reuse opioids, potentially subjecting themselves to overdose and death.
Thus, the safest, most comfortable setting is a medically supervised detox process, where a compassionate team of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel can treat withdrawal symptoms that arise. Staff will also provide around-the-clock supervision to monitor your progress and assess your health to develop the best treatment plan for you going forward.
A reputable professional treatment program will begin with medical detoxification. In a proper detox program, you will be gradually tapered off the carfentanil to minimize those uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. You will be administered opioid treatment medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assist in the gradual tapering process.
The medications administered in this medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program include:
Medicines, therapy, and counseling are what comprise MAT. For such a severely lethal drug like carfentanil, it is highly recommended that clients enter a residential treatment program. In this program, clients will receive a comprehensive array of treatment services in the form of behavioral therapies proven to address opioid addiction.
Those therapies include:
The purpose of behavioral therapy is to help clients change their behaviors in regards to addiction and substance abuse. This is accomplished through motivation, incentive programs, and thought analysis. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is administered because it teaches clients to control their thoughts toward abuse and addiction by giving them coping skills and strategies. CBT also imparts relapse prevention strategies.
Not every person who enters treatment at California Vistas has the same journey, but fellow sojourners in recovery can provide support and encouragement to one another. Staff members at the treatment facility are included as well. For many clients, recovery can feel like a solitary journey. Group therapy allows clients to connect and develop camaraderie with fellow recovery sojourners and treatment staff.
MI helps clients tackle and resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities regarding themselves and discover the motivation to change their behavior, according to Psychology Today. This practice is well-suited to treating clients with substance abuse issues.
Mindfulness helps clients by bringing their attention to the present through meditation to help them address their addiction through acknowledgment and acceptance. Clients also learn how to incorporate mindfulness rituals into their daily lives.
Addiction not only affects clients but their families as well. Family therapy treats the root of the substance abuse problem. It also allows every loved one damaged by a client’s use to heal.
This is an essential educational component that helps people in recovery smoothly transition back into society by equipping them with critical life skills. For so many, substance addiction has robbed them of the time to learn skills such as meal prepping, creating a resume, practicing self-care, paying a bill, and managing a budget. This sort of training also minimizes the anxiety clients may have of reintegrating back into normal life and resuming social roles. Such pressure can lead them to relapse. Life skills training can help them prevent relapse while allowing them to build a sustainable future.
Arete Recovery. (n.d.). Carfentanil Withdrawal. from https://areterecovery.com/withdrawal/carfentanil/
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). (n.d.). DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning To Police And Public. from https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/09/22/dea-issues-carfentanil-warning-police-and-public
Family Recovery Specialists. (n.d.). Carfentanil Withdrawal. from https://www.familyrecoveryspecialists.com/withdrawal/carfentanil/
Little, B. (2018, May 25). How Opioids Were Used as Weapons During the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis. from https://www.history.com/news/opioid-chemical-weapons-moscow-theater-hostage-crisis
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Motivational Interviewing. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/motivational-interviewing
Reddit. (n.d.). R/Drugs – A Shitty Guide To Carfentanil. from https://www.reddit.com/r/Drugs/comments/777mgr/a_shitty_guide_to_carfentanil/?st=JN6CR17I&sh=ea6a4d41
Serenity at Summit. (n.d.). Guide To Carfentanil Withdrawal: Timeline, Symptoms, Detox. from https://www.serenityatsummit.com/withdrawal/carfentanil/