Fentanyl abuse is increasing in the United States and throughout the world. While initially abused only in the medical community, fentanyl abuse is now mainstream and is now one of the main driving forces behind the opioid epidemic. Fentanyl is a type of prescription opioid, which are analgesic medications. Analgesics like fentanyl are used to treat severe and chronic pain. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, is generally prescribed sparingly, often for invasive surgeries or in cases of excruciating back injuries. However, over the last few decades prescriptions for opioids have dramatically increased. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of every 100 Americans there are approximately 58 opioid prescriptions. 17% of Americans currently have at least one opioid prescription. While there are plenty of people who take pain relievers as prescribed, the increased prevalence of fentanyl makes it easier to abuse, both for people holding legitimate prescriptions and for those obtaining it on the black market. As a result, this potent pain reliever is currently playing a major role in the United States’ opioid addiction crisis.
Due to the opioid crisis, drug overdose has surpassed automobile crashes as the number one leading cause of accidental death in the United States. In 2015, there were 20,101 deaths involving prescription opioids in the United States. This number is increasing rapidly. In 2018 alone, approximately 31,000 Americans died from overdosing on synthetic opioids. One report estimates that every 12 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose.
The distinction between people who abuse fentanyl, synthetic opioids in general, and street drugs such as heroin is often fuzzy. Legitimate use of prescription opioids like fentanyl ultimately leads to physical dependency that can drive people to buy heroin, which is often easier to access. Additionally, people often unintentionally consume fentanyl while ostensibly using other substances. Dealers frequently lace poor quality heroin with fentanyl to make it more potent. It is also common to add it to other substances.
Because fentanyl is so potent in such small quantities, it is extremely difficult to measure it out in correct amounts. As a result, fentanyl is indirectly implicated in many overdose deaths involving opioids of all kinds, and even overdose deaths involving stimulants, which, when mixed with fentanyl, become far more life-threatening.
While fentanyl is often used legally and healthily by people suffering from acute and chronic pain, even this population is vulnerable to fentanyl addiction. Medical professionals refer to fentanyl addiction as opioid use disorder (OUD). Individuals suffering from opioid use disorder find themselves using fentanyl compulsively, experience negative emotions or physical anguish when they do not have access to the substance, and find it impossible to control their use. The most obvious sign of an opioid use disorder is when a person wants to wean off or quit fentanyl entirely but find that they are unable to carry out their plan. This inability to act on the intention to quit can induce feelings of helplessness and depression and is a primary source for the profound demoralization that accompanies addiction. Unfortunately, many people with legal prescriptions for fentanyl believe that they are immune to addiction because they believe the legitimacy of their prescription makes it a safe drug.
Fentanyl addiction, whether arising from black market use or a legal prescription, can utterly destroy a person’s life. Relationships with friends and family can be damaged. Many find it difficult if not impossible to obtain or maintain a job. It is common for those with opioid use disorder to suffer legal and financial difficulties as a result of their drug-seeking behavior. Beyond all this, fentanyl puts individuals at risk of suffering from major physical and mental health problems. Many people suffer from fatal drug overdoses before they have even begun to explore treatment options.
Opioids like fentanyl affect receptors in the brain responsible for motivation and decision making, so quitting fentanyl alone is rarely possible. Anyone addicted to fentanyl requires outside help. Addiction treatment for fentanyl addiction is usually a multi-step process during which a variety of treatment options and modalities are combined to meet the unique and changing needs of individuals as they make a recovery. Treatment centers may make use of support groups, medications that alleviate withdrawal symptoms, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and even family therapy. The idea behind substance abuse treatment is not only to help people avoid relapse, but to rebuild a healthier and happier life in sobriety.
The first step anyone trying to quit fentanyl should take is enrolling in an opioid detox program. During this initial period, individuals begin weaning off or withdrawing entirely from fentanyl and other opioids.
Because fentanyl is such a potent opioid, people withdrawing from it are likely to experience a variety of painful physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals at a detox program can assist patients by prescribing methadone or buprenorphine, medications that have been proven to alleviate cravings and some of the more severe withdrawal effects. Even for users who quit “cold turkey,” having access to the medical supervision that detox centers provide is very important. Withdrawing without supervision can have disastrous health consequences and can lead to relapses that are unpredictably dangerous after a user has decreased their tolerance during a period of abstinence. Moreover, people benefit from the moral support, counseling, and the social support system that detox centers provide. A medical detox program, which can last from a few days to a few weeks, allows people to make a start on their journey to sobriety with access to all the resources they need.
Fentanyl addiction, like all substance use disorders, cannot be “cured,” no matter how long one remains physically abstinent. Substance use disorder is a type of chronic illness that can, however, be managed through consistent treatment. The nature of this treatment will inevitably change as individuals develop a stronger foundation in sobriety. After finishing a medical detox program, case workers generally advise enrolling in a residential treatment center or outpatient addiction program. There, individuals can begin doing the more important work that follows withdrawal: reflecting on the underlying issues behind their addictions, learning coping strategies, improving mental health, and developing new skills. Even after leaving formal treatment programs, most people continue to stay involved in support groups or 12-step programs where they can continue to work toward building a new life in sobriety.
People addicted to fentanyl or any other synthetic opioid are at increased risk of suffering from severe physical and mental health problems. Fentanyl abuse can also be life-threatening in the event of a fentanyl overdose. A fatal overdose becomes even more likely when fentanyl is used in conjunction with other street drugs. Mixing fentanyl is particularly dangerous, especially with stimulants, which tax the heart and respiratory system while synthetic opioids simultaneously slow down body functions. In the event of an overdose, it is crucial to call 911 after providing the individual with naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a potentially fatal overdose.
Opioid addiction also puts every component of an individual’s life at risk. In an effort to avoid experiencing excruciatingly painful withdrawal symptoms, most users stop at nothing to obtain the drug and prioritize fentanyl use above all else. Casualties can include career, family, and even personal freedom. Many individuals with substance use disorders have major relationship problems, which can lead to divorce or loss of child custody.
A person who abuses fentanyl and experiences slowed breathing might be suffering from a potentially fatal overdose. Slowed breathing implies hypoxia, a condition that occurs when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. Hypoxia, even when it is not fatal, can nonetheless afflict people with irreversible neurological damage or put them in a coma.
The physical dangers of this high potency medication vary widely depending on an individual’s method of consuming it.
The fentanyl patch is the most common type of prescription given by medical professionals. This slow-release patch can steadily dose users for several days. For users who have no tolerance for opioids, contact with the sticky potent side of the patch can lead to overdose. An additional danger is that even when an overdose is reversed using naloxone, users might overdose again sometime shortly afterwards due to the timed-release nature of the patch.
The injection of fentanyl is another method commonly used for administering this potent opioid. Unlike the fentanyl patch, which provides a slow and steady release of the drug over several days, injecting fentanyl delivers an immediate and powerful dose directly into the bloodstream.
It is important to note that injecting fentanyl carries significant risks. Individuals without a tolerance for opioids are particularly susceptible to overdose when injecting fentanyl, as the concentrated dose can overwhelm their system. The fast-acting nature of injected fentanyl increases the likelihood of an overdose occurring rapidly.
In the event of an overdose from injected fentanyl, administering naloxone can help reverse its effects. However, it is crucial to understand that the danger does not end there. Due to the rapid onset and short duration of naloxone’s effects, users may experience another overdose shortly after the initial reversal, especially if the fentanyl injection was potent.
It is essential to seek immediate medical attention and support if you or someone you know is experiencing an overdose or struggling with fentanyl misuse.
Snorting fentanyl is a method of administering the potent opioid by inhaling it through the nose. This form of ingestion allows the drug to be absorbed rapidly through the nasal mucosa and into the bloodstream, resulting in a quick onset of its effects.
It is critical to recognize the dangers associated with snorting fentanyl. Individuals who have not built up a tolerance to opioids are at high risk of overdose when snorting fentanyl due to the concentrated and rapid absorption of the drug. The immediate onset of its effects can lead to an overdose occurring swiftly after ingestion.
In the event of an overdose from snorting fentanyl, the administration of naloxone may be necessary to reverse its effects. However, it is important to be aware that the risk of a subsequent overdose remains, as the rapid absorption of fentanyl through snorting can result in a re-occurrence of overdose symptoms shortly after initial reversal.
If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl misuse or experiences an overdose from snorting fentanyl, seeking immediate medical assistance and support is crucial for ensuring safety and recovery.
Smoking fentanyl is a method of using the powerful opioid by heating and inhaling it through the lungs. This form of administration allows the drug to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, leading to rapid onset of its effects.
It is important to understand the significant risks associated with smoking fentanyl. Individuals who do not have a tolerance for opioids are particularly vulnerable to overdose when smoking fentanyl due to the highly concentrated dose and immediate absorption. The fast-acting nature of smoked fentanyl increases the likelihood of an overdose occurring rapidly.
In the event of an overdose from smoking fentanyl, it may be necessary to administer naloxone to reverse the effects. However, it is crucial to be aware that the danger does not end there. Since smoking fentanyl delivers a powerful and immediate dose, there is a high risk of experiencing another overdose shortly after the initial reversal.
If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl misuse or experiences an overdose from smoking fentanyl, seeking immediate medical attention and support is essential for ensuring safety and promoting recovery.
The most common reason people initially begin using fentanyl is to treat severe and chronic pain. However, many people also purchase it illegally off the street, sometimes with the intention of purchasing another drug entirely to which fentanyl has been added. While physical dependence can arise from legitimate use, abusing fentanyl with the intention of getting high increases the risk of fentanyl addiction. When people consume fentanyl, opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain and the body. This causes pain signals to the brain to be dulled or blocked completely, which is the primary effect doctors seek when they prescribe the drug. However, these activated opioid receptors also flood the brain with dopamine, a chemical that makes people feel extreme pleasure and euphoria. Dopamine has a vital role in controlling the brain’s reward center, affecting both motivation and decision-making. Any behavior that releases dopamine, including exercise, sex, and even eating delicious food, tends to be reinforced so that users are likely to repeat that behavior. However, because fentanyl releases dopamine in such enormous quantities and so rapidly after consumption, this reinforcement is far more intense than that which occurs with other pleasurable activities. The result is that users are drawn again and again to abuse fentanyl.
As the brain and body become accustomed to fentanyl, the brain’s opioid receptors actually multiply and users also adapt to the enormous amounts of dopamine flooding their brains. As a consequence, individuals must take higher doses of fentanyl or take it more frequently to get high. This phenomenon is called tolerance. Even at relatively low doses, fentanyl’s potency also implies severe withdrawal symptoms and side effects. At the higher doses that people with physical dependence take, stopping or cutting down can produce excruciating illness. When people begin uncontrollably taking increasingly higher doses of fentanyl to stave off withdrawal or to get high, they can be said to suffer from opioid use disorder.
People who abuse fentanyl are far more likely to develop mental illness than other populations. The reverse is also true: individuals with mental health conditions are likely to turn to prescription opioids to alleviate their distress over the short term.
Individuals suffering from substance use disorders alongside other mental health disorders are referred to as “dual diagnosis” or “comorbid.” The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that there are 9.2 million adults qualifying as dual diagnosis in the United States. These patients require a higher degree of care, since relapse is likely if both conditions are not treated simultaneously.
People who abuse fentanyl usually learn from experience that is difficult if not impossible to stop using without outside help. People who attempt to quit on their own, a practice known as quitting “cold turkey” usually find that they return to substance abuse within a few hours, days, weeks, or months. Experiencing the anguish of opioid withdrawal only to return to opioid abuse shortly after can be especially demoralizing. It is important to understand that without first addressing the causes and conditions that lead to addiction, remaining physically abstinent for a period of time is unlikely to result in long term sobriety.
Part of the reason it is so difficult to quit fentanyl without help is that fentanyl abuse actually leads to lasting changes in brain chemistry. Opioids like fentanyl actually alter the reward centers of the brain that control motivation and decision making, meaning that no matter how much one desires to quit in the abstract sense, on the neurological level the brain will continue to demand more fentanyl. Even after quitting for a long period of time and eliminating physical dependence on the drug, without outside help a return to substance abuse is likely.
Most people rarely even get that far, however. People suffering from a physical dependence on fentanyl will experience an array of physical symptoms and side effects during opioid withdrawal that vastly exceed heroin withdrawal in intensity. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, cold flashes, muscle and bone aches, heavy sweating, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms are accompanied by severe cravings that can drive people hoping to relieve their suffering to relapse. Withdrawing at a treatment center under careful medical supervision can help people treat the majority of these symptoms. It is also much safer, since rapid changes in blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues can actually be fatal in some cases. Attending a licensed medical detox program isn’t just an easy way out — it’s the safest and most effective approach.
The period of time it takes for the withdrawal process to begin depends upon multiple factors, among them the severity of physical dependence, frequency of use, the overall health and age of the individual, and the route of administration used. Intravenously administered fentanyl generally has a half life ranging from 3 to 12 hours, whereas transdermal fentanyl patches have half lives ranging from 20-27 hours. Illicitly produced fentanyl generally has the shortest half life. People who withdraw at a medical detox center, as is recommended, are sometimes prescribed medications like methadone or buprenorphine which also slow down and reduce withdrawal symptoms. People who quit cold turkey are more likely to begin the withdrawal process more rapidly.
In most cases, however, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms begin between 2 and 4 hours after the last dose. This initial phase of the detox process can include symptoms such as anxiety, muscles aches, body pains, tiredness, insomnia, and sweating. Drug cravings are also very intense during this period of time.
After 1 to 3 days, withdrawal symptoms generally reach peak severity. Many individuals experience chills, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Between 3 and 10 days, most users’ symptoms begin to subside. This period of time, however, can feel very long, since opioid withdrawal affects people’s sense of time passing. An hour can feel like a day. It is very important to have support from a medical detox during this period of time to avoid relapse.
While most symptoms disappear after 2 weeks or so, it is common for people to experience symptoms to some degree for many after discontinuation, a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
Medical detox centers help individuals deal with the difficult process of withdrawing from a synthetic opioid painkiller, and they are especially crucial for fentanyl, which is more highly addictive than most. Medically supervised detox can provide crucial support as well as medications that alleviate side effects of withdrawal.
Inpatient treatment facilities allow individuals to treat the underlying reasons behind their addiction after they’ve detoxed. These live-in programs offer 24 hour care along with a number of resources, from therapy to skill-building workshops. They also help residents develop a sober social support system that will aid them over the long term.
Outpatient treatment centers are often recommended for the transitional phase after graduating from an inpatient treatment program, but they can also be used by individuals who require a higher degree of flexibility from their treatment program. Requiring only a few hours a week, outpatient programs offer counseling and treatment plans for long term recovery.
Support groups and 12-step programs, which many individuals get involved in during formal treatment programs, are often utilized for many years after graduation. These programs offer programs for continued recovery as well as social support systems. At a formal treatment center, case workers can help individuals plan ahead to develop an appropriate aftercare plan for long-term sobriety.
GPS Counseling Center’s for Addiction Treatment fentanyl treatment program is designed by counselors and medical professionals with extensive experience in addiction recovery. Offering evidence-based treatment modalities in a safe and non-judgmental environment, GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment takes an evidenced-based approach to make sure that the unique needs of each individual are met.
It is GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment philosophy that sobriety involves more than just physical abstinence from fentanyl. Our goal is to help individuals rebuild their lives by learning and developing skills that will aid them in the future. We work individually with each patient to make sure they are fully prepared not only to avoid relapse over the long term but to live happy and fulfilling lives in sobriety.
Whether you are just beginning an outpatient program or ready for an aftercare plan, GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment is here for you if you’re ready to make a change. Fentanyl addiction can feel hopeless, but individuals who have progressed through our program have a different story to tell. Long-term sobriety is yours if you want it. Contact GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment today.
GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment, we extend our commitment to our graduates and alumni by offering 42 additional weeks of aftercare.
This program permits weekly drop-in sessions, fostering long-term recovery and stability for our graduates.
Simultaneously, these sessions provide essential guidance and encouragement to new participants embarking on their journey to recovery.
Family therapy provides education and support so family members of loved ones can better understand the role and impact of substance abuse.
Learning how to support a loved one in treatment and after treatment. Addressing issues such as communication, co-dependency, and recognizing how to set boundaries.
Individual Therapy provides an opportunity to develop and modify relapse prevention plans, identify triggers and develop coping skills.
Sessions are designed to support clients as they work on the identification and resolution of alcohol and or substance-related problems.
Exploring personal barriers, behaviors, and or challenges in the way of recovery. Uncovering the underlying roots of substance abuse addiction.
At GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment Intensive Outpatient Program group therapy is the primary mode of treatment. Group therapy allows participants to step out of the shadows of shame, secrecy, and isolation and develop a level of community among fellow participants.
Participants who take part in group therapy sessions can improve their communication skills and build connections with other people who are also working to recover from addictions.
Group therapy reinforces mindfulness and healthy ways of interacting and relapse prevention. Allowing participants to learn from the experiences and perspectives of other people. Those that are newer to recovery noticeably benefit from those who have been sober longer.