As the problem of prescription painkiller abuse continues to plague communities across the nation, a new set of drugs has gained an unfortunate popularity. Fentanyl is a painkiller that, when used appropriately and in a medically supervised setting, has the power to relieve pain that other strong opioids like morphine cannot subdue. This drug has brought relief to many people who are suffering significant pain as a result of ailments such as cancer. But because of its ability to produce a euphoric high when abused, many individuals have become addicted to fentanyl, soon requiring larger doses and more frequent use to achieve the desired effect.
Another similar class of drugs is a set of synthetic fentanyl derivatives which can be as much as ten times as strong as heroin. Some of these derivatives, such as Carfentanil, are used as tranquilizers in veterinary settings, but when used illicitly are often cut with heroin and other drugs to make them all the more strong. These deadly combination substances are completely unregulated, making experimenting with them incredibly dangerous.
An addiction to prescription painkillers like fentanyl and other synthetic fentanyl derivatives often requires professional help to overcome. These substances are some of the most highly addictive drugs available, but a treatment center can provide the necessary support to address chemical dependency and other underlying concerns that may be prohibiting an individual from leading the healthy, vibrant life he or she desires.
If you mention the dangers of heroin abuse, most people have an understanding of the perils of this type of chemical dependence. But some of the most widely used opioids being abused today are not as well known in the public eye, although this is slowly changing. Lesser-known opioids such as fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl derivatives have been responsible for thousands of deaths in recent years.
One sobering indicator of this growing epidemic can be found in New Orleans. In January 2015, Orleans Parish Coroner Jeffrey Rouse shared the sad news that the fentanyl-related death rate had surpassed the city’s murder rate, a tragic statistic for the city of New Orleans, and but one example of the many communities that are struggling to combat this dangerous new trend in drug abuse.
Causes and Risk Factors for Fentanyl Abuse
What puts one at risk for developing a fentanyl or fentanyl derivative use disorder? While there is no definitive answer to that question, there are some known risk factors for chemical dependence, a few of which are described in the following:
Genetics: Having a close family member who has a history of struggling with substances of abuse puts one at a greater risk of developing a chemical dependence him or herself. Additionally, individuals who have shown a propensity for certain risky behaviors, impulsivity, boredom, and thrill-seeking may be more inclined to begin abusing substances as well.
Environmental: Being exposed to substance abuse in the home at an early age may serve to normalize addictive behaviors, and may lead an individual to be more inclined to seek out substances of abuse later in life.
- Personal history of experiencing pain due to a medical condition or injury
- Personal history of mental illness
- Family history of substance abuse and/or addiction
- Being raised in an environment in which substance use was present
- Possessing certain personality traits
Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse
Many individuals who are prescribed fentanyl by their medical provider will take the drug as directed for a brief time and never feel inclined to use the substance outside of its intended purpose. But sadly, many will become dependent upon fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative because of the alluring high it can create. While it may be easy to conceal substance abuse at first, over time signs and symptoms of an individual’s fentanyl dependence will begin to show, and may include the following:
- Displaying unusual or erratic behavior that is uncharacteristic
- No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed in favor of substance abuse
- Being unable to control the frequency and amount of one’s substance abuse
- Using fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives in situations that are hazardous
- Social isolation
- Continuing to abuse fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives despite problems caused by this type of substance abuse
- Going to great lengths, and even deceptive measures, in order to acquire more of one’s substance of choice
- Racing heart
- Swollen feet and hands
- Slowed breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Fixation on finding more of the drug
- Intense cravings for the drug
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities
Effects of Fentanyl Abuse
Abusing fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives will cause a host of damages to all aspects of an individual’s life over time, robbing him or her of health, happiness and wellbeing. Some of these effects can include the following:
- Polysubstance abuse
- Job loss
- Damage to internal organs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Legal trouble
- Social isolation
- Damage to key relationships
- Family problems
- Loss of child custody
Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose
Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: People who have abused fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives will become physiologically dependent on these drugs over time. This means that when an individual abruptly ceases his or her use of illicit substances, a set of painful symptoms known as withdrawal will soon occur, and can include the following:
- Runny nose
- Aches and pains
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
Effects of Fentanyl overdose: Of all the concerns that accompany a fentanyl or synthetic fentanyl use disorder, the most critical is that of the possibility of a life-threatening overdose. In the case that an individual begins exhibiting the following symptoms after having ingested one of these drugs, immediate emergency medical attention should be sought:
- Poor coordination
- Passing out
- Cold, clammy skin
- Slurred speech
- Slow breathing