Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms: RX for a Deadly Overdose

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that hundreds of thousands of counterfeit prescription pills cut with fentanyl have already infiltrated the United States drug market and the problem is anticipated to get worse. These counterfeit pills are manufactured with pharmacy-grade machines that make them nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. First synthesized in 1959, fentanyl is a powerful opioid analgesic that can be lethal in very small doses. It’s similar to morphine but is up to 50-to-100 times more powerful. Due to its potency, even a few extra grains of fentanyl can mean the difference between life or death.

What Is Fentanyl?

What Is FentanylAccording to the United States Controlled Substance Act, fentanyl is a schedule II prescription drug, meaning it has high potential for drug abuse and has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. Its classification also states that fentanyl substance abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. [2]

A professional can sometimes recognize whether a pill is counterfeit due to its markings, but in most cases, pills that are suspected to be counterfeit must be tested in a laboratory to be able to tell the difference.

Why do doctors prescribe fentanyl?

The drug is used to treat severe pain or control pain after surgery. In some cases, it’s prescribed for cancer or chronic pain to patients who have become physically tolerant to other synthetic opioids. Fentanyl can also be used as a sedative to help people relax before surgery or other medical procedures. Some prescription medications that contain fentanyl are Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze [1]

Fentanyl Facts: Pick Your Poison

4.3 million people in the United States admitted to having used painkillers for non-medical purposes in 2014, and that number has only grown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80 people died every day in 2014 from opioid overdose and other drugs, with fentanyl playing a large role in those overdose deaths.

Another surge in fentanyl use took place in the Midwest in 2006. The drug was mixed with heroin to create a more potent high, which resulted in more than 1,000 drug overdose deaths. Most of those overdoses were accounted for by heroin users who were unfamiliar with fentanyl and weren’t even aware that they were putting it into their bodies. Aside from the Midwest, the Northeast was also a heavily affected area during that time, particularly states such as Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. [3]

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl

Illicitly manufactured fentanylDue to the high potency and low price of fentanyl, the drug has been making its way into a wide variety of knockoff illicit drugs. Common drugs involved the anxiety medication Xanax and the painkiller Norco. Between January and April of 2016, there were 19 deadly overdoses from pills laced with fentanyl, nine in Florida from counterfeit Xanax pills and 10 in Sacramento, CA, from counterfeit Norco pills. Some other drug variations of fentanyl-laced pills are marketed as knockoff Oxycodone, a powerful painkiller, but nowhere near as potent as fentanyl, resulting in further fentanyl overdose.

Many customers of the illegal drug trade do not participate in it by choice but rather by necessity. In an attempt to crackdown on high synthetic opioids use across the country, which often leads to addiction followed by illegal opioid use, the government has set strict federal regulations on prescribing powerful painkillers. Tragically, these regulations are too austere and often prevent patients who have a justified claim to refill their prescription opioids from doing so. This only provides the counterfeit prescription pill and illicit drugs market with more customers, achieving the opposite of the government’s intended effect.

Even worse, the counterfeit synthetic opioid pills sold on the street vastly differ from the pharmaceutical grade pills that legitimate patients are accustomed to, which only serves to exacerbate the fentanyl-induced public health crisis.

How does fentanyl affect the brain?

Fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, and triggers the release of dopamine, which reduces the perception of pain. Mind-altering drugs may slow down or speed up the central nervous system and autonomic functions necessary for living, such as blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and body temperature.

High doses of fentanyl can cause life-threatening respiratory depression and cardiac arrest. Fentanyl can also cause euphoria, leading to drug abuse and addiction.

Vicious Cycle

Fentanyl overdose symptomsDue to the nature of the illegal drug market, dealers will put anything in their pills. mixing multiple doses of other drugs in one to increase their profit margins. Unfortunately, this almost always results in counterfeit pills being even more dangerous to those who take them.

In many cases, buyers are not aware that the pills they are taking are laced with fentanyl. Even if they were aware, many might choose to continue taking them due to there being no other recourse to deal with their severe, chronic pain. Additionally, fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, meaning that many people are not only unwittingly dosing themselves with fentanyl, they are also doing so unwillingly through transdermal fentanyl.

Fentanyl’s potency as a painkiller makes it very cheap so its illegal sale is extremely profitable. The DEA estimates that 666,666 pills can be made per kilogram, and that the counterfeit pills are being sold for $10 or $20 a pop. Do the math – these kinds of profits are irresistible to those with the means to manufacture fentanyl-laced pills, which is a huge factor to fentanyl popping up in all types of counterfeit prescription medication. [3]

The profit margin for selling fentanyl is significantly higher than that of heroin. Due to the strength of fentanyl, drug dealers can make between $1-2 million from a single kilogram of fentanyl whereas they only make about $80,000 from a kilogram of heroin. [4]

Fentanyl overdose symptoms

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but is 50 to 100 times more potent. A small amount of fentanyl can cause a fatal overdose, so watch closely for signs of an overdose and act quickly!

Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include:

  • Severe drowsiness
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Pale face
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or confused leading to strange behavior
  • Unresponsiveness

Many fatal overdoses thought to be from heroin have actually been from fentanyl. Even a small dose of fentanyl, such as 2 milligrams, can be lethal depending on how tolerant someone is and their body size. Call 911 immediately, if you suspect that someone has overdosed on fentanyl.

How is fentanyl addiction treated?

Fentanyl addiction treatment can include a variety of different approaches for different individuals. Whichever treatment options you choose, it is important to receive treatment for fentanyl substance abuse as soon as possible. Fentanyl abuse can be deadly, and it is crucial to get help before it is too late.

Some common treatment options include:

-Addiction counseling: This involves meeting with a counselor who can help you understand your addiction and work on developing healthy coping mechanisms.

-Medication management: If you are struggling with withdrawal symptoms or have a co-occurring mental illness, you may need medication to help you recover. Medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can be used to help with fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Seek help from medical personnel to help you with the right medicines.

-Support groups: Joining a support group can provide you with invaluable peer support as you work through your addiction.

-Detoxification services: If you have reached a point where you cannot stop using fentanyl or other substances on your own, detoxification services can provide you with the necessary support to get through the withdrawal process. Some people may need to detox in a hospital setting, while others can detox at home with medication and support.

A fentanyl addiction treatment list may include inpatient or outpatient rehab as well

Inpatient treatment – Opioid addictions can be very difficult to overcome on your own. This is why it is important to seek professional help at an inpatient rehab center. At a rehab center, you will have access to all the resources you need to overcome your drug use problem and start living a healthy, sober life. The health care professional at a rehab center will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan tol address all of your needs. They will also provide you with support and guidance throughout your recovery. Inpatient rehab for fentanyl substance use disorder typically lasts 28 to 30 days and involves detoxification, counseling, and support groups.

Outpatient rehab is a less intensive form of rehabilitation that allows you to continue living at home while receiving treatment. Outpatient rehab may be a better option for those with less severe drug use addictions or who cannot take time off from work or school.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please reach out for help. There are many resources available, and treatment can be successful with the right treatment center.

How can fentanyl overdoses be treated?

A person exhibiting the symptoms of overdose should get immediate medical attention. If they do not, they may get hypoxia which may lead to coma. Call 911 if you are unsure how to administer treatment.

One treatment option is to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Another option is to pump the person’s stomach to remove any fentanyl that may have been swallowed.

In some cases, it may be necessary to provide life support, such as ventilation or CPR, until the effects of the fentanyl wear off.

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know is currently having trouble with prescription pills, counterfeit or otherwise, consider seeking help for substance abuse. Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous drug and its manufacturers have zero qualms about selling deadly pills laced with fentanyl to their unsuspecting customers. The fentanyl crisis in the United States is going to get worse before it gets better so now is the best time to seek help. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) together with treatment facilities in the US is here to help.

Behavioral Health Centers is a recovery center located in North Palm Beach, FL that specializes in treatment for all types of addiction as well as mental health issues. The professionals at Behavioral Health Centers are available to help you or your loved ones through what could become a deadly habit if left unchecked. Please call us today at 772-774-3872.

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Unity Behavioral Health, Unity Recovery Center and Behavioral Health Centers have consolidated treatment and alumni programs. If you or a loved one are looking for help, please contact us to receive the same excellent treatment and beautiful locations you have come to know and love.
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