Fentanyl is one of the most effective prescription drugs on the market. However, it is also one of the most deadly. Understanding the risks of fentanyl can help decrease the rate of addiction, prevent overdose and save lives.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid medication that is like morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. As a Schedule II drug, fentanyl has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Because of its high potency, fentanyl can be easily misused and lead to overdose and death. For this reason, fentanyl should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
What Do Doctors Prescribe Fentanyl For?
Doctors prescribe fentanyl to treat severe pain. The pain fentanyl helps relieve generally includes:
- Cancer pain
- Surgical pain
- Post-operative pain
- Chronic pain after a serious injury
Fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, which blocks pain signals and produces feelings of euphoria. However, it also comes with a high risk of side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression.
What Makes Fentanyl Dangerous?
Although highly effective at treating pain, using fentanyl can be dangerous. Here’s why.
1, Fentanyl is Highly Potent
Since fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine, as little as 2 milligrams of the drug can be deadly. In fact, because of its high potency and potential for abuse, fentanyl has been dubbed “the most dangerous drug in America.”
2. Fentanyl Can Cause Drowsiness
In addition to relieving pain, fentanyl has a sedative effect on the body. This effect can lead to drowsiness. Despite popular opinion, drowsiness is more than just feeling tired. It’s a state of reduced alertness that can make you doze off without warning. As a result, drowsiness contributes to thousands of car accidents every year, and it’s a factor in many industrial accidents as well. Drowsiness can also affect your ability to concentrate and make good decisions.
3. Fentanyl Suppresses Breathing
When fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors, it inhibits the release of dopamine, leading to a suppression of breathing. This can be extremely dangerous, as it can lead to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood. This build-up can cause a condition called hypocapnia, which can cause headaches, dizziness, and even unconsciousness. In severe cases, hypocapnia can be fatal. Another danger of suppressed breathing is that it can lead to a condition called hypoxia, which occurs when the body tissues are deprived of oxygen. This can cause damage to the brain and other organs, and can even be fatal.
4. Fentanyl Misuse Can Lead To Addiction
When taken in large doses or when injected, snorted, or smoked, fentanyl produces a powerful high that is much more intense than the high produced by other opioids. This intensity makes fentanyl quite addictive, and users can quickly develop a tolerance to it. As tolerance builds, users need increasingly large doses of fentanyl to get the same high, which leads to addiction. When people become addicted to fentanyl, they often keep using it despite the negative consequences, such as financial problems, social isolation, and legal trouble. People who are addicted to fentanyl may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the drug. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Quickened heart rate
- Cravings for fentanyl
5. Fentanyl Can Be Illegally Made and Sold On the Streets
Even though fentanyl is a legal prescription medication, it is also sometimes used as a recreational drug, and it can be very dangerous when misused. Illicit fentanyl is manufactured in laboratories, and then illegally sold on the streets. Because this type of fentanyl isn’t monitored, users are not always aware of the exact strength or content of the drug they are taking. As a result, accidental overdoses are common and can be deadly.
6. Illicit Fentanyl Can Be Mixed with Other Drugs
Illicit fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, without the user’s knowledge. When fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, it can increase the risk of overdose and death. Mixing fentanyl with alcohol or other depressants can slow down breathing and heart rate, leading to an unintentional overdose. Fentanyl is also sometimes combined with stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine. This combination can be particularly risky because it can cause erratic behavior and increased agitation. In some cases, people have died after mixing fentanyl with other drugs.
7. High Risk of Overdose
Because fentanyl is so potent, even a small amount of the drug can cause an overdose. Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include slow breathing, extreme drowsiness, cold or clammy skin, and muscle weakness. If someone you know exhibits these symptoms, it is important to call for help immediately, since a fentanyl overdose can be fatal. Other signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include:
- Difficulty walking
- Decreased motor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Pinpoint eye pupils
- Bluish or purplish lips, hands, feet, fingernails, or toenails
- Noticeably slowed or shallow breathing
- Reduced blood pressure and heart rate
- Becoming unconscious or comatose
Reclaim Your Life Today
Fentanyl is a powerful and effective prescription medication, but it can also be very dangerous. Understanding the risks of the drug can help to prevent addiction and overdose, and save lives. If you or someone you love struggles with an addiction to fentanyl, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our team at StoneRidge Centers is here to help you regain your life and support you as you recover. Our addiction treatment programs can provide you with the resources and tools you need to get your life back on track.
Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you achieve sobriety.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.