What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an opioid used as a pain medication in prescription drugs. The medication is often used for the management of chronic or after-surgery pain.
Designed in the 1950s, fentanyl is a synthetic alternative to morphine. It is extremely potent and closely monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, the drug is hundreds of times more potent than heroin found on the street, making it extremely dangerous when not monitored by health professionals.
When used in small doses for a pain management system by physicians, the drug can be safe. The problem is that the drug is so potent that even those with prescriptions can accidentally overdose. This potency is also why fentanyl has become an increasingly popular street drug.
Recreational use of fentanyl has been rising since the 1970s, on its own or mixed with other drugs. Many times, buyers are misled into believing they are buying pure heroin or Oxy, when in fact the drug is fentanyl or fentanyl-laced. This misrepresentation has led to thousands of overdose deaths, as the buyer is unaware of ingredients.
What Drugs May Contain Fentanyl
Fentanyl increases the potency of many opioid and non-opioid drugs, making it a popular choice for illicit drug makers. The addition of fentanyl can also be used to compensate for low-quality heroin or to give dealers an edge up on their competition by creating a better high for users.
If you participate in recreational drug use, you need to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs. Always remember that unless you have manufactured the drug yourself, you don’t know exactly what is in it.
Overdoses on heroin are common across the country, but are often not caused by pure heroin. Research is beginning to show that thousands of those overdoses were caused by fentanyl-laced heroin, of which users were unaware. Sometimes, these overdose deaths cause a boost in sales for dealers because it attracts addicts who can never get high enough.
When heroin is laced with fentanyl, it’s almost impossible to identify unless you know what you’re looking for. Authorities with experience in seizing drugs say pure heroin has a yellow tint to it, while fentanyl powder is bright white.
The concoction of fentanyl-laced heroin can be unadvertised or sell under the names Theraflu, Bud Ice or Income Tax. Understanding these facts can save your life.
Fentanyl has been commonly laced in heroin for decades, but the presence of the drug in cocaine is more recent. Fentanyl acts as a depressing agent, whereas cocaine is purely a stimulant, making it unclear why the two are being batched together.
Experts have theories suggesting it is used to stretch cocaine or is part of an inadvertent cross-contamination on the part of dealers. Cocaine is just as white as fentanyl, which makes it impossible to identify with the naked eye.
Like cocaine, fentanyl has just recently been discovered after overdoses on a combination including ecstasy. The rates of overdoses involving fentanyl and ecstasy are on the rise, and many authorities believe it is due to cross-contamination. Because fentanyl is so potent, it takes only a few dust particles of the drug to contaminate a new batch and become lethal.
Marijuana laced with fentanyl is a sort of oddity. There are many conflicting reports that this combination exists. The DEA has stated publicly it has not discovered the combination, but dealers in online forums claim they do mix marijuana and fentanyl together to increase highs.
The reason for this disparity can be that fentanyl present in marijuana is difficult to detect or is so new on the market the DEA has yet to catch on. If you are a marijuana user, just be aware that the combination is a possibility, albeit a slim one.
Fake Pills and Opioid Painkillers
In 2017, more than two dozen patients in Macon, Georgia were hospitalized after buying and consuming what they had thought to be Percocet pills after buying them on the street. Instead of containing the active ingredients of Percocet, the pills contained a near-lethal combination of other drugs, including fentanyl.
The presence of counterfeit pills is on the rise across the country and can result in lethal overdoses, as users are unaware of the ingredients. Many of the pills are coming from Mexico or China and look almost identical to their legitimate counterparts.
The Effects of Fentanyl
Often, people do not consume fentanyl purposely. The extremely minute amount required for a high or potential overdose makes the drug unattractive for most users. As previously mentioned, problems arise when users are unaware of the ingredients in drugs they are using. What some people expect to be a normal high can easily turn deadly without the user knowing what happened.
Side Effects of Fentanyl
When used as prescribed by a medical physician, fentanyl still has strong and sometimes long-lasting side effects. Short-term side effects of normal fentanyl use can include:
- Altered heart rate
- Slow breathing rate
When the drug is used in excess or in high doses, more serious side effects will occur. It’s important to understand that only a few particles can cause a person to overdose.
The margin for overdose is so small that serious and life-threatening side effects are guaranteed. These side effects include:
- Cardiac arrest
- Severe confusion
- Lack of oxygen circulating in the body
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Respiratory arrest
- Overall non-responsiveness
Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Use
When used in the long term, fentanyl leads to multiple organ damage due to lack of oxygen throughout the body. Hypoxia is the term used for oxygen level delivery around the system that is considered too low. Anoxia is the condition where no oxygen is delivered around the body, leading to organ failure and death. Other long-term effects include severe and varied damage to the brain.
Oxygen is vital to the brain. Without it, permanent brain damage and death will occur. When fentanyl is used long term, the depressed respiratory system causes a lack of oxygen to the brain.
The lack of oxygen will then cause:
- Memory loss
- Hearing and vision impairment
- Loss of coordination
- Cognition impairment
- Potential retardation
Severe lack of oxygen to the brain can cause damage within one to two minutes. Long-term suppression of breathing due to a depressed respiratory system occurs gradually.
Other Damaging Effects of Fentanyl
With long-term use of fentanyl, the depressed respiratory system also leads to lack of oxygen delivery to organs. The organs slowly begin to shut down. If the user continues taking fentanyl and does not seek treatment, death will result. Organs will begin shutting down, typically beginning with the kidneys and liver.
Fentanyl has also been shown to cause amnesia after long-term use or overdose. Amnesia can be long or short term, depending on the amount used.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
Fentanyl is an opioid, so treatment for addiction to fentanyl is essentially treatment for opioid addiction.
Withdrawal symptoms begin anywhere from three to 17 hours after last use. The symptoms peak in the first few days but will level off within a week or so. The symptoms of withdrawal can be severe, so the process should be monitored by medical personnel.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramping
- Joint pain
Often, opioid addiction is treated by weaning the user slowly off the drug with smaller and smaller opioid doses. This method can help calm withdrawal symptoms to ease the transition. Again, this should only be performed with the help of medical professionals.
The Deadliness of Fentanyl
If you choose to use drugs recreationally, be aware of the dangers that come with fentanyl-laced drugs. Nearly all fentanyl overdose deaths were the result of people who unknowingly took the drug. In many instances, fentanyl cannot be detected or seen by the naked eye, so you never know what you’re getting when you buy drugs on the street.
It only takes a 100th of the amount of fentanyl compared to heroin to kill an average-sized adult male. This means only a few tiny particles of fentanyl can be lethal, especially if it has been manufactured on the street.
You never know what you are getting when you buy drugs, and often your dealer doesn’t know what they’re selling, so just be sure to keep the danger of fentanyl at the forefront of your mind.