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The Role of Fentanyl in the Opioid Epidemic

a person looks sad after learning about fentanyl and the opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic is nothing new at this point. However, the recent popularity of fentanyl has only escalated the problem. Fentanyl and the opioid epidemic kill more people now than ever before.

At Northpoint Recovery, we understand how strong the pull of opioids can be. We also know that recovery is possible, no matter how deep you are in your addiction. Our team of compassionate and knowledgeable professionals is here to guide you every step of the way. Learn more about our fentanyl addiction treatment by calling 888.296.8976.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a fast-acting, powerful opioid used to treat severe pain. It is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times stronger. It relieves acute and chronic pain by attaching to opioid receptor sites in the brain, which control how the body processes pain. When used as prescribed, fentanyl is typically only given to people in the advanced stages of cancer or some other terminal illness. It is also used as an anesthetic for surgical procedures. Fentanyl should only be used in extreme cases when prescribed by a doctor. However, many people abuse this drug illegally and purchase fentanyl on the black market. It is known on the street as:

  • Tango and Cash
  • China White
  • Jackpot
  • Friend
  • Apache
  • China Girl
  • Dance Fever
  • Goodfella
  • TNT

Fentanyl and Opioid Deaths

Opioid addiction is scourging the United States, and fentanyl is a major player in the number of opioid-related deaths in the country. By now, most Americans have heard that the country is experiencing an opioid addiction epidemic. Here are some statistics that put fentanyl and the opioid epidemic problem into perspective:

  • In 2015, there were 6.5 million fentanyl prescriptions dispensed in the U.S.
  • In 2016, more people died from a drug overdose than in any other year. Fentanyl is largely to blame for this statistic.
  • The rate of fatal fentanyl overdoses increased by at least 88% every year between 2013 and 2016.
  • Over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids every single day. Many of these are fentanyl cases.
  • An average of 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Fentanyl is responsible for many of these deaths.
  • Of the more than 60,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, about 66% involved an opioid drug, including fentanyl.
  • From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses—most of these involved opioids, including fentanyl.
  • In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids like Fentanyl and heroin) was five times higher than in 1999.
  • The economic cost of the opioid crisis in 2016 was $504 billion.

While many opioid-related deaths involve heroin and prescription opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, addiction experts seem to be most concerned about fentanyl. The drug has exploded onto the U.S. drug scene and is causing an increasing number of opioid-related overdose deaths, largely due to illegally manufactured fentanyl.

Illegally Manufactured Drugs Are Largely to Blame For Fentanyl Deaths

Fentanyl-related deaths mostly happen to people who abuse opioids and acquire them illegally. Because fentanyl is a highly guarded substance and is very difficult to get from a doctor, street fentanyl is being manufactured in illegal labs around the world and distributed for sale by drug dealers in the United States on the black market. Often, fentanyl is mixed with heroin because it is cheaper to produce and packs a powerful punch. Most heroin users are unaware that they are using fentanyl, which is twenty-five to forty times more potent than heroin. They end up using too much and die prematurely from a drug overdose.

How Are People Using Fentanyl When They Abuse The Drug Illegally?

When fentanyl is sold on the streets, it is either sold in pill form, powdered form, or liquid form. The reason why illegal fentanyl is so dangerous is that it is not dosed, regulated, or administered properly. People who take fentanyl don’t know how much to take. Whether they take fentanyl knowingly or they buy heroin that has been laced with the drug, they end up taking too much. This can bring about respiratory depression and death.

What Are the Signs of a Fentanyl Overdose?

An overdose of fentanyl is a medical emergency. If you or someone you’re with has been taking fentanyl or other illegal drugs and you experience any of these symptoms, you should call 911 immediately:

  • Dangerously slow or stopped breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Extremely tiny pupils
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Bluish color of the lips, skin, or fingernails

How Can Fentanyl Overdose Be Prevented Or Treated?

A medication called Narcan (naloxone) can be given to someone experiencing an overdose to reverse the effects of fentanyl. Paramedics and emergency rooms frequently use this drug to block the effects of opioids. In many states, Narcan is given to people struggling with opioids and their families in case of an accidental overdose. This is a pocket-sized device that can be administered to immediately reverse the effects of an overdose.

What Happens When Someone Stops Taking Fentanyl?

When someone stops taking fentanyl, they will go through the excruciating experience of withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs when someone has been using an addictive substance and suddenly stops using it. Because fentanyl is so powerful, withdrawal from this drug is much more intense than when detoxing from other opioids. Here are some withdrawal symptoms associated with fentanyl:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Extreme depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Cravings for more fentanyl
  • Seizures, coma, and death in some cases

Opioid withdrawal can be deadly. Those addicted to fentanyl should not attempt to stop taking the drug alone. Withdrawal should happen in the safety and comfort of an opioid detox center or inpatient rehabilitation center where progress can be monitored and evaluated.

Opioid Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Recovery

Fentanyl and the opioid epidemic continue to destroy lives and families. That’s why addiction treatment at Northpoint Recovery is so vital. We offer a variety of addiction treatment programs that are designed to help those with opioid use disorder. From medically supervised detoxification to inpatient rehab, we have the resources and expertise to ensure that you or your loved one receives the highest quality care. Contact us online or by calling 888.296.8976 to get started on the road to recovery.