Drug overdose fatalities have reached an all-time high, wreaking havoc on families and communities. In the 12 months ending in September 2021, more than 104,000 Americans died as a result of a drug overdose.
You’ve probably heard about the recent wave of opioid overdose deaths. And if you’re a chronic pain sufferer, you might be tempted to self-medicate with opioids like fentanyl. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what these drugs are and how they work. Here’s what you need to know about this powerful drug.
An Opioid Is Sometimes Called a Narcotic
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid agonist that mostly works on the mu-opioid receptor. It is 100 times more effective than morphine, resulting in a conversion ratio of 1 to 100 to deliver the same level of analgesia. It’s used for pain management treatment of cancer patients and can be prescribed in many different forms, including transdermal patches, oral solutions, lozenges/lollipops, and injectable formulations.
Although opioid is a general term for a class of drugs that act on opioid receptors in the brain, narcotics are more specific. Narcotics are derived from opium and are used for pain management and sedation. Opioids can be used for pain management as well, but people usually use the terms interchangeably.
Fentanyl abuse is a growing problem in the United States. The illicit use of fentanyl has been on the rise since 2012. Fentanyl can be purchased online or diverted from legal or medical sources. The drug is often mixed with heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine and sold on the street as counterfeit prescription pills or mixed with other drugs such as depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines.
It’s also become popular among teens who may be trying it for recreational purposes because it’s relatively easy to access and can be snorted rather than injected. For example, in Clark County, Nevada, between 2018 and 2021, there have been 412 deaths due to this drug abuse. If you suspect someone might have fallen victim to this dangerous addiction, you could help them by using a service like ATI drug testing in Las Vegas. This first step will confirm whether the individual is indeed abusing Fentanyl.
Fentanyl Was Developed for Pain Management
First synthesized in 1960, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that can be used to treat patients suffering from acute or chronic pain. It was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients and applied in a patch on the skin. Fentanyl is a powerful prescription drug that is used to treat severe pain. It’s much stronger than morphine, and when it’s abused, it can be deadly.
Fentanyl is also available as a lozenge or lollipop that dissolves in the mouth and is used with patients who are already taking opioids (very high tolerance) and appear tolerant to oral medications. This method has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as ACTIQ® (fentanyl citrate) oral transmucosal lozenge, with a CII Initial U.S. Approval in 1968.
It’s important to note that Fentanyl should only be used in the hospital setting when there are no alternate options available. This is because it can cause serious side effects if misused or taken incorrectly.
The Fentanyl Patch
Fentanyl can be diverted for abuse in its original patch form, by scraping off the patch and chewing it or by extraction of contents using water or alcohol.
The fentanyl patch is a transdermal delivery system, meaning it releases the drug into your body through your skin. The patches are very expensive and have to be applied to the body at specific times to maintain their effectiveness. Fentanyl patches can be abused by chewing or extracting the contents using water or alcohol.
You’ll get a sense of the potency of these drugs when you learn that your typical patch contains 25 micrograms of fentanyl per hour for three days. This is a lethal dose. If you were to eat an entire prescription-strength patch, it would kill you. But what’s important to note is that this volume of fentanyl is tiny. It is less than half an aspirin tablet. People are dying from abusing these small amounts over and over again by snorting or injecting them into their bodies.
The drug’s potency also makes it easy for dealers to mix fentanyl with other drugs like heroin and cocaine without changing their appearance or consistency. When someone knows they’re buying heroin and thinks that they’ve been sold pure heroin instead, it’s possible for them to overdose on the substance without realizing it.
Common Names of Illicit Fentanyl
Most people are familiar with the brand-name forms of fentanyl, such as Actiq and Duragesic. However, there are many other common street names for this potent drug. Here’s a list of some of them:
- China girl
- China white
- Dance fever or dancing powder
- Jackpot (also used for heroin)
- Murder 8 or murder one (used about its high potency)
A Deadly Dose of Fentanyl
A lethal dose of fentanyl is 1 mg to 2 mg for an average-sized adult, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But it takes only 0.5 mg/kg for children and 0.1 mg/kg for infants under 6 months old to cause death when they’re exposed to the drug through accidental ingestion or inhalation, according to NIDA research.
Fentanyl is most often administered in patch form, usually prescribed as part of an existing treatment plan involving other medications such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin). Because of its potency, even small doses are potentially dangerous when taken without medical supervision.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that fentanyl may be mixed with heroin or cocaine undetectably by dealers who don’t want their customers to know what they’re getting from their supplier.
It’s Dangerous to Treat Your Pain With Self Medication
It’s common for people with chronic pain to treat their symptoms on their own. For example, opioids are effective in treating low back pain and osteoarthritis. But while most physicians will prescribe these drugs as needed or on a short-term basis, people are often tempted to use them longer than they should.
A recent study found that nearly half of people who take opioids nonstop for three years wind up becoming addicted. And that doesn’t even count those who abuse the medications.
Make sure you’re making smart decisions when it comes to taking prescribed medicines by following these tips:
- Don’t take anything not prescribed by your doctor (elderly patients are at greater risk).
- Know how much medication is safe for you, and stick within those limits.
- Avoid combining prescription medications with alcohol, street drugs, or other medications without first consulting your pharmacist or physician.
If you have been using these drugs and are concerned about your health or safety, please talk to a doctor or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).